Art And Nature In Inawashiro
Last week I enjoyed a short, relaxing stay in Inawashiro, a beautiful and dramatic area in the mountains north of Tokyo.
The week leading up to the trip had been odd. We were woken one morning by a long M7.2 earthquake under the waters off Fukushima, in the area devastated by the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami. Then a few days later Tokyo saw its first November snows for 54 years (and the earliest snowfall on record). Since our destination was in the mountains not far from Fukushima, and we hadn’t been expecting snow so soon, we really didn’t know what to expect.
Arriving And Staying
Inawashiro is very easy to reach. A short 80 minute trip from Tokyo to Koriyama on the Shinkansen (bullet train), followed by a 40 minute fast local service to Inawashiro. Our booked taxi was waiting at the station to take on final 20 minute drive up to the Hotelli Aalto.
We were greeted at the front door and shown to a stylish lounge area, with plenty of bare exposed wood, low slung chairs and a fantastic valve-driven HiFi system. The hotel draws its name from acclaimed Finish designer Alvar Aalto, and the Nordic design influences are apparent all the way through the building, which was renovated to a design by acclaimed Japanese architect Yoshikazu Masuko. Local birch was used throughout the building and the design and function of this small hotel (only 13 rooms) is truly a Scanio-Japanese hybrid.
Breakfasts and dinners were lush, stylish, hearty multi-course events, served in what feels like the most luxurious camp dining hall imaginable. The rooms were spartan, yet generously proportioned, in keeping with the hotel’s aesthetic. Crisp high thread count white cotton sheets topped generously padded futon beds. There was ample room to sit and lounge. The bathroom was surprisingly big, though we didn’t use it that much, opting instead for long hot soaks in the hotel’s own natural spring-fed onsen pools.
Our third-floor room, one of only two with views towards the woods, had a small balcony. From there we could see a small path that lead into the woods, so after breakfast we decided to explore. The hotel provides an assortment of outdoor footwear but we had packed our hiking boots just in case. There were also a few walking sticks, long cane rods with a bell attached on the end, to ward off bears. The path itself was a nice stone paved amble around the property and two small lakes. When we set out there was still light dusting of snow on the ground and on a few branches, but it was quickly melting in the morning sun and by the time we returned to the hotel it was almost all gone.
Dali At The Morohashi Museum
A short walk from Hotelli Aalto. is the Morohashi Museum Of Modern Art, which houses an exceptionally good collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures by Dalí along with a few works by other artists like Picasso, Miró, Renoir, Pissarro, Cézanne, and van Gogh.
A quite extraordinary about Japan is the way you find these kinds of amazing galleries in what seem to be out of the way rural settings. Mostly a product of the 80s and 90s boom years they are a blessing to art lovers and a reason to venture out of the big cities. Hiking and art seem to go hand in hand here.
The Museum is closed during winter, since the area is typically under a couple of metres of snow come January, so we managed to sneak in just before it shuts for the season. We enjoyed a few hours, then stopped for a light lunch in the comfortable cafe, basking in the early afternoon light, before walking back to our lodgings. For any Dalí fan this is a rewarding and moving experience.
Mt Bandai, or Bandai-san as it is called in Japanese, is a massive volcano currently measuring 1816m in height, though it was significantly taller before it erupted in 1888, during a massive blast that killed 477 people, the first major disaster of the Meiji period. The eruption diverted rivers and created some spectacular lakes, while leaving Bandai-san looking like a dramatic, five-peaked ruin.
This was a family holiday, not a photography trip, so I didn’t come back with a lot of photos. My hope was to get a sense for the area so I can come come back in early spring and photograph Bandai-san and some of the surrounding lakes.
Even though I’ve been here for 3.5 years so far, Tokyo can still overwhelming and stressful at times. Thankfully it’s easy to take a fast train and in a few hours be somewhere that feels quiet, remote and refreshing. I love city living. But, I also love being out in nature as well.