Nov 29, 2018
Gallery - Hotel Gajoen Tokyo
The luxury Hotel Gajoen Tokyo (ホテル雅叙園東京), in the Japan capital’s Meguro ward, is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year and today launches a new project, an exhibition showcasing the hotel’s celebrated Hyakudan Kaidan, or The Hundred Stairs.
The Hyakudan Kaidan Exhibition “A Space Featuring Magnificent Japanese Art” runs until Dec. 24, 2018 and allows members of the public to come and view the symbolic wooden steps, a remaining structure of the hotel’s early Showa era construction, as rarely seen before.
While the Hyakudan Kaidan and its seven adjoining rooms have been host to exhibits in the past, through this 90th anniversary exhibition, hotel management wants to draw attention to the appeals of the structure itself, without the trappings of temporary exhibits, and the original works of art that were commissioned at the time of the hotel’s construction, that ultimately have lead to the staircase being certified a Tangible Cultural Property of Tokyo in March 2009.
We were able to attend a preview of the exhibition ahead of today’s opening, and were also taken on one of Gajoen’s art tours -- another of the hotel’s 90th anniversary projects, launched in June this year, showcasing a selection of spaces and rooms under the theme of A Museum Hotel of Japan Beauty.
And what beauty.
Starting with the Hyakudan Kaidan which, contrary to the name, consists of just 99 steps, with one step having been deliberately removed as a sign of modesty.
It perhaps seems like a cursory gesture now because, well, who’s counting when you’re spending most of your time on the staircase gawping at the finery. And as you make the climb, drawn further into the charms by an architectural sleight of hand that has the power to allure, eyes are often drawn up towards the ceiling art, or to the right and the prospect of quiet exploration in one of the adjoining rooms.
Some of the seven rooms adjoining Hyakudan Kaidan are named after the artist whose works feature prominently in the space. The first room you come to -- the Chamber of Jippo -- is named after the Nihonga (traditional Japanese paintings) artist Araki Jippo (1872 - 1944) who is considered something of a pioneer in bringing Japanese art into the wider world.
(Chamber of Jippo, Hyakudan Kaidan)
While the staircase itself might display a kind of quiet modesty, the Chamber of Gyosho (the second room) is a magnificent riot of color and painstaking engravings that depict scenes of festivals, fishermen and woodcutters. This is the most extravagant of the staircase’s rooms.
(Alcove, Chamber of Gyosho, Hyakudan Kaidan)
Those of a more delicate disposition will likely find plenty of fawn over in the Chamber of Seisui, named after the room’s primary artist Seisui Hashimoto. Here you can see works with flowers and birds as the subject.
While the Hyakudan Kaidan Exhibition “A Space Featuring Magnificent Japanese Art” doesn’t appear to be accompanied with English-language explanation (each room has a tasteful digital display offering notes in Japanese), there’s still plenty to enjoy here and much to be gained, not least the experience of finding such a quiet, haunting space in the middle of Tokyo’s booming chaos.
This is a no shoes zone, so be sure to have on a good pair of socks. While the staircase itself is comfortably cool, the temperature of the rooms is a bit stuffy, so be sure to shed a layer or two for comfortable exploration.
Photography is permitted, but no flash or tripods.
Hyakudan Kaidan Exhibition “A Space Featuring Magnificent Japanese Art”
|When||Nov. 29 - Dev. 24, 2018|
Sun - Thurs 10:00 - 17:00 /
Fri - Sat 10:00 - 20:00
1,500 yen (adult) / 800 yen (student) /
Early bird tickets 1,000 yen
|Address||1 Chome-8-1 Shimomeguro Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0064|
About the hotel
Hotel Gajoen Tokyo was founded in 1928 by former public bath house owner Rikizo Hosokawa who went on to make his fortune in the landfill and real-estate game, before moving into the restaurant business.
Hosokawa commissioned works of art from famous Japanese painters using them to adorn the walls of his restaurant so marking the beginnings of Gajoen’s celebrated collection.
In 1931 he bought a plot of land in Meguro and began the construction of a new restaurant which reached its completion in 1943 under the name Meguro Gajoen, accruing more works of art in the process.
The current form of what is now a hotel has been in place after extensive renovation work in the late 80s and early 90s. In 2017, the name was changed to Hotel Gajoen Tokyo as part of a rebranding as hotel management seeks to extend the appeals of the hotel to a broader audience, where in Japan it is prominently known as a wedding venue (the first all-purpose wedding venue in Japan).
“We’ve been holding wedding ceremonies for many decades now, but there are still many people who aren’t aware of how wonderful this facility is, and we see this as a something we need to address,” the hotel’s General Manager Shinichiro Yoshizawa told press during a preview of the Hyakudan Kaidan exhibition.
“After the rebranding of the hotel last year, we would like to attract a variety of guests to come and experience this special facility, beyond those who come for the weddings, and to increase awareness of the hotel around the world. This is our current mission.”
Well, Hotel Gajoen Tokyo certainly packs in plenty of the “wow” factor. If you’re a humble proletariat like this expat, you’ll likely have your jaw head rapidly south and your eyes widened by the splendor of this place, not long after entering the lobby. There’s art everywhere here -- even some of the elevators look like they should be afforded some kind of heritage status. (The elevator leading to the Hyakudan Kaidan is a real extravagance of lacquer art -- have plenty of space available on the SD card.)
Impact is really delivered though when you make a right at the lobby and head along a broad walkway (requisite bridal salon in place) towards the main body of the accommodation and restaurants. Here you’ll be greeted by the Maneki no Daimon (Great Gate of Fortune), a grand lump of a daimon (big gate) flanked by water features.
Beyond this a huge glass-walled atrium provides cover, and natural light, for restaurants and cafes while affording views to Gajoen’s Japanese garden. (Head to the upper floors of the Hotel Wing for views.)
Gajoen Art Tours have been available to hotel guests since June as part of the hotel’s 90th anniversary celebrations (Morning Art Yoga, too). Tours take in some of the rooms around, and including, the Japanese banquet hall, the entrance to which is a real eye-popping showpiece, featuring landscapes and bijin-ga paintings (works featuring beautiful women which first appeared in Japan in the Edo era) -- a common theme of the Gajoen collection. Around the guest rooms, be sure to look up to see more bijin-ga works adorning the ceiling.
During the press event, we were also given a gander at one of the guest rooms, all 60 of which at Hotel Gajoen Tokyo are designed in the “suite” style. (The hotel is a member of the group of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.)
Like the Hyakudan Kaidan and its associated works of art, the hotel as whole serves in part as a magnificent gallery with plenty to sink the teeth into. For the layman (me) the details are likely to time-consuming and overwhelming, but if don’t allow yourself to get bogged down, Hotel Gajoen is a real feast for the eyes. If you do know your stuff, this hotel is surely a must-stay for art lovers (with deep pockets).
The Hyakudan Kaidan exhibition comes on the back of “A Museum Hotel of Japan Beauty” an event held in Paris on November 15, showcasing the hotel and its collection of art to audiences in the French capital. The event was part of Japonismes 2018, a season of Japanese culture being held in Paris and other cities across France, marking 160 years of diplomatic relations between the Japan and France.
Know of any hotels in Japan that wold make a great stay for fans of art? Let us know in the comments
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