Are you familiar with the work of Japanese photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto? If your answer is yes and – obviously – if you enjoy his work, you will love Enoura Observatory. As one of the web reviewers noted, the observatory gives you the feeling of walking inside a Hiroshi Sugimoto photograph. It feels like the boundary between the light and architecture blurs creating almost another dimension.
Located near Odawara in Kanagawa, easily accessible by train from Tokyo in less than an hour or slightly longer if you take the cheaper local train, Enoura Observatory is a result of ten years long efforts of Hiroshi Sugimoto who scouted a very wide area to find the ideal place for his project. In one of his interviews, the artist notes that he wanted us – the audience – to experience the nature the way our ancestors did without the interruption of modern day amenities and give us the chance to be in their shoes for at least a brief moment. Likewise, as explained in the information booklet provided to the visitors, Sugimoto designed the project to help us get closer to the state of mind of our ancestors and try to re-discover the purpose of art. To me, it felt like – in Enoura Observatory – he offers us a visual tunnel for a brief visit to an era where we were alone with the vast universe and tried to identify our place in it.
The observatory is composed of multiple architectural elements including an art gallery, a stone stage, a tea house, a garden, an optical glass stage in addition to a reception area. Each visitor is allowed around two hours to explore the premises and I suggest that you take your time and explore each area multiple times. You are allowed to bring in your own lunch.The entire premises is surrounded by citrus trees and offers an uninterrupted view of Sagami Bay.
The walls of the glass tunnel exhibits photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto. I first came across his work nearly ten years ago in Arles, France during the annual les Rencontres d`Arles event, probably one of the best and enriching photography events in the World. He had two exhibits at the event and one was his work concerning the display of Hermes scarves in a church. It was a breathtaking display and also has a very special meaning for me. The photo of the display that I took in that small church in Arles led to my first photographic sale when an American travel magazine – AFAR – purchased the photo for their back cover.
Enoura Observatory: Tickets and Access
There is an advanced booking system for the purchase of the tickets, which is 3,300Yen. You can either book the morning or afternoon session. The latter is between 1.30-4.30pm whereas the morning session starts at 10am and ends at 1pm. You can book the free shuttle from Negukawa Station to avoid the uphill walk on a very busy narrow car road.
There are various options to get to Negukawa from Tokyo including shikansen and much cheaper local train options. I took the JR Tokaido Line, which gets you to Negukawa from Shinagawa in around 80 minutes and costs around 1500 Yen for unreserved seat and you need to pay 1000 Yen extra for a reserved seat. It can occasionally be worth the extra fee for the reserved seat especially if you want to enjoy your lunch/dinner at the train. Unlike the shikansen, the unreserved ticket section only allows access to wagons with a subway style seating.