by Sarah Owen

House of Light

An artistic and experiential destination, hidden in the quaint Japanese countryside of Niigata.

Absolute Highlight

From having a chance to stay in a traditional Japanese edifice to exclusively experiencing a work of art by the incredible James Turrell, the stay was uniquely amazing.

In a nutshell

No. of rooms
3 rooms but if you’re lucky you can get the whole place to yourself. It can sleep up to 15 people.
The design aesthetic is...
soothingly minimal and bare, the place feels like a traditional Japanese abode, a wooden structure connected by steep stairs and shoji-like doors.
The typical guest is...
open to living an unmatched sensory experience; seeking a calm, isolated place; and willing to embrace foreign traditions.
The sustainability features (ie. plastic free, recycling, green wall, garden) are...
essentially built into the architecture itself, from the water spilling out of the slate pool irrigating the garden, to the wood used for construction, sourced from a defunct nearby property.
The location is...
deep in the countryside; 2 hours away from Tokyo by train (we drove and it took over 3 hours) and a 20 minute drive from Tokamachi Station, in Niigata.
Interaction is encouraged by....
the friendly and very cordial groundskeeper, the absence of distraction, and the purposely communal design of the house.
You should stay here because
conceived as a guesthouse for meditation and exchange, it presents the singular opportunity of experiencing something artistically transcendent while also providing a sense of comforting, calming isolation.
What took you there?

As a long time James Turrell enthusiast, my companion and I had wanted to visit his House of Light for years, so it’s one of the first items we scheduled when planning our Japan trip. Having, like most, only experienced the artist’s light based work in controlled and timed environments, like museums and galleries, it was incredible having a chance to literally live inside one of his major architectural pieces. In retrospect, it also justified renting a car and driving through the Japanese countryside, which was memorable, and offered an ideal contrast with the bustling intensity of larger cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto.

What was your room like?

We stayed in the main bedroom, but all three bedrooms have a similar layout. They’re all connected by sliding doors (that cannot be locked), allow for direct access to a kitchen on the second floor, and to the LED illuminated open-air onsen bath downstairs. The sleeping arrangement – which is also traditional, composed of dense mattresses, hard rice-grain pillows, and tatami mats – is surprisingly comfortable. The master bedroom is the brightest with the cut-out in the ceiling, a sunroof which slides open to reveal the sky, part of the artistic immersion that is queued to begin at sunset. There are enough utensils and glassware in kitchen cupboards for a large dinner party; the necessary essentials, including slippers, personal care products, and fresh towels; and wireless internet is available.

What about the venue

When building the house, the artist James Turrell was inspired by In Praise of Shadows, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s essay on Japanese aesthetics. The overall design reflects his desire to work with Japanese materials and ideologies. In his own words, the edifice is “an attempt to contrast as well as to incorporate day and night, the Eastern and the Western, tradition and modern.” While the building is a fairly traditional house, it simultaneously conveys a modern aesthetic. The space is constantly bathing in the artist’s light installations, including the bathroom, the outdoor bath, and the adjacent garden. The layout also embodies the combined perception of Japanese and Western culture to the very use of light, incorporating Turrell’s media and lights with the traditional usage of natural light in Japanese houses. As the day outside begins to fade with the arrival of early evening, for instance, the edifice becomes progressively illuminated from within with pinks and purples. Once you open the sunroof, you will marvel at how everything morphs into a spectrum of subtle, soft, and vivid colors.

Tell us about the destination

Nestled in the mountains of the beautiful Niigata countryside, the House of Light is mostly surrounded by nature, thick and dreamy; while during winter, it stands alone in snow filled landscapes. Visiting nearby cities such as Tokamachi and Tsumari is an option; as is hiking, golfing, or mountain biking. Yet, spending most of the visit in the building and its grounds tends to be what motivates the pilgrimage to this corner of Japan. Generally, elements such as complete seclusion, a dimly lit space, and the total absence of direct stimulation can result in pause, maybe even doubts as far as ‘it being worth it’. In this case, you couldn’t wish for more, especially if you’re a traveler seeking tranquility, a soothing environment, and the opportunity to live an unforgettable sensorial experience.

Who did you meet there?

Over the course of our two day stay, we met the highly friendly, reliable and organized groundskeeper; and a mute gas station attendant.

Have you stayed here? Let us know your thoughts!
Japan, Niigata
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Hoshitoge Rice Terraces

Matsumoto City Art Museum

We stopped by Matsumoto City Art Museum, home to Yayoi Kusama

Matsumoto City Art Museum

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