The Foundation Connecting Us to the Origins of Humankind


WordsClémence Leleu

©Odawara Art Foundation

In the citrus valleys of Odawara you’ll find the Odawara Foundation and the onsite Enoura observatory. Constructed by the photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto with the aim of creating a space for the dissemination of art and Japanese culture for the world to see, the foundation comprises an art gallery, a stone stage, a glass stage for Noh theatre, a tearoom, a garden and an office building.

When creating the foundation, just 30 minutes from Tokyo, Sugimoto drew upon his childhood memories, peppered with train journeys across the land. ‘I owe a lot to Odawara’, he says, ‘my earliest memories are of the sea from the train on the old Tokaido line from Atami to Odawara, when the train emerged from the tunnel, the Pacific Ocean would appear. I would be wide-eyed as I saw the horizon stretch out before me. It was in these moments of wonder that I realised who I was and where I found myself on Earth’.

This project allows the architect to return to the roots of his creation. ‘What should we be expressing in art today’, he wonders. ‘There is no response to this question, all we can do is continue to return to the source of human consciousness, exploring and retracing its path’, explains Sugimoto. ‘This was the project I had in mind when I came up with the Enoura Observatory’.

Reconnecting with memory

The observatory was conceived as a means of rediscovering the emotions felt by people when they first realised the passing of time, measuring seasons and the trajectory of the sun.

‘My goal was to create this complex as a means of reconnecting people, both visually and mentally, with the ancient memories of our ancestors and natural phenomena’, explains the architect. ‘At winter solstice, life is re-born. During the summer solstice the seasons swing back once again. The equinoxes of spring and autumn are the balancing points between’.

The observatory, which is partly visible from the foundation, was conceived of in order to highlight the unique light of the equinoxes and the solstices. The steel structure measures 70 metres long and seems to have been delicately placed in the middle of the garden. Every year on the 21st of December, an incredible spectacle takes place at sunrise, with rays of light illuminating the rock placed at the entrance to the observatory, before reflecting across the glass stage of the Noh theatre, giving the impression that the actors, mid performance, are floating on thin air above the sea.

Maintaining tradition

The crowning glory of the architect’s construction is the use of Japanese traditions and savoir-faire, most noticeable in his stringent respect for the rules of Sakuteiki, rendering the gardens a work of art reminiscent of the Heian epoch, using only ancient stones. The region of Odawara is home to a number of craftsmen, including metalworkers and carpenters, masters of ancient techniques passed down through the generations. Hiroshi Sugimoto was keen to collaborate with them on his construction, helping to ensure the preservation of such trades. ‘In this materialist, consumerist world, where so much natural beauty has been destroyed, we need more than ever to revive these ancient Japanese traditions’, says Sugimoto.

©Odawara Art Foundation

©Odawara Art Foundation

©Odawara Art Foundation

©Odawara Art Foundation

©Odawara Art Foundation

Enoura Observatory

Japan, 250-0025 Kanagawa, Odawara, Enoura 362-1

Open Thursday to Monday

3,000 yen on reservation. 2,500 yen for evening tours (only in July and August.)