Field Report: Atami, Japan (03 February 2014)

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Today, we’ll visit a museum that not only has great exhibits inside, but looks quite stunning from the outside.

The day began with breakfast, followed by a morning shinkansen journey on the Kodama 639 from Tōkyō to the onsen town of Atami.

Today’s ride is an N700 series train, part of the newest class currently running on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. These slick new cars are standard equipment on the fastest, station-skipping Nozomi service (which I can’t use with my JR Pass), though one also sees them on the slightly slower Hikari and the significantly slower Kodama at certain times.

This train’s bound for Nagoya, but we’re not going that far. The two yellow kanji under the destination name spell out kakueki, meaning this train (as is typical for the third-tier Kodama service) will stop at all stations.

03Feb14 Kodama N700 Shinkansen Green Car 001

The entrance to one of the Green (first-class) cars.

03Feb14 Kodama N700 Shinkansen Green Car 002

Nice interiors, as usual. Our journey will take less than an hour, but one can easily imagine surviving a far longer trip in these comfortable surroundings.

Apart from the bigger and better seats, I like travelling in Green Cars on the JR network because they don’t often get booked out. Fewer passengers, less noise, more relaxing ride. On certain routes, such as those run by JR East, you’ll even get a complimentary beverage. (Not here though – JR Central only offer a disposable oshibori, though at least it’s larger and stronger than the ones you get with a typical store-bought meal.)

About half an hour into the journey, take a look through the windows on the right side of the train. If conditions are right, you might catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji. (Today was a little hazy but it managed to peek through.)

03Feb14 Kodama N700 Shinkansen Green Car 006

At a quarter past nine, I got off at Atami Station and walked to the tourist information office just outside the main exit. No English-speaking staff on duty, but no matter – my Japanese (atrocious though it was) sufficed to obtain directions to the bus stop for today’s destination, along with a discount coupon for the rather expensive entrance fee.

Whilst waiting for the next bus, I glanced back towards the tracks and spotted an early blooming plum tree peeking out from behind a construction fence, its branches festooned with splendid pink blossoms.

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If the posted timetable could be trusted (and, this being Japan, it probably could), I still had a few minutes to spare. I crossed over to the other side for a couple of close-up shots.

03Feb14 Atami MOA Museum of Art 001

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The ride only took a few minutes, but it was actually quite fun. Nothing special about the vehicle itself (just a typical city bus) – the upward route, on the other hand, was a delight to be driven through. The bus took us through winding and hilly streets, some with such steep gradients that I was amazed at how the driver managed to navigate them so effortlessly.

The following map plots out a walking course (it won’t produce a bus route for some reason), but the route we followed is probably quite similar to this, if not identical.

We were eventually deposited near the main entrance of today’s destination: the MOA Museum of Art.

03Feb14 Atami MOA Museum of Art 004

I spent a few moments searching for the ticket office, but the receptionist standing just inside the front door informed me that I wouldn’t find one here. This, in fact, was really nothing more than an entrance – the museum itself is perched on a prime spot even higher up the hill we’d just been bussed to.

To get there, we’ll need to ascend by way of a long series of escalators cut deep into the bowels of the hill.

At some point, we’ll reach a large chamber with a splendid, rather mesmerising ceiling. Very simple design, but quite captivating – draws the eye upwards and doesn’t let go easily.

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There are a few exhibits here, so let’s take a breather and look around. Don’t linger too long, though; we’re not at our final destination yet! Higher, higher . . .

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. . . until at last, we emerge back into the bright morning sunshine and come face to face with the museum itself.

I’m not a fan of modern architecture in general, but I’ll readily concede being favourably impressed by this building. It opened its doors in 1982 and is still quite a looker after more than three decades, unlike other modernist structures designed according to the latest modes of the day but age quite badly. The use of a cut-stone casing, rather than painted or patterned concrete, probably did much to help in this regard.

Given its lofty perch above the city of Atami, it’s no wonder that the views from here are just as splendid as the building.

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The ticket counter can be found in the lobby, and entrance will set you back a whopping 1,600 yen. (The discount coupon I got at the tourist office lopped off a small number from that; can’t recall exactly but it was something like 200 yen or thereabouts.) Unfortunately, this shot of the lobby is all I can give at this point since photography is strictly prohibited in the exhibition rooms.

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The museum houses an eclectic collection of paintings, sculpture, and other forms of art, including no less than 3 National Treasures and 65 Important Cultural Properties. It’s all over the place, but in a good way: each group of exhibits appears to have been carefully curated and displayed to the highest standards of exhibition. Still, the mix can be quite jarring. One of the first things you’ll see (unless the exhibits are changed, as they probably are from time to time) is a massive Hellenic krater, which would then be followed by room after room of Oriental art. At times, one would question the existence of a common thread running throughout the museum, other than that all the exhibits – regardless of age, form, medium, or origin – must express a certain aspect of beauty.

One of the most celebrated pieces in the museum’s collection is the 18th-century folding screen “Red and White Plum Blossoms“, by Ogata Kōrin, an officially designated National Treasure. I’ve read that it’s only displayed around the month of February each year; quite appropriate, indeed, as this coincides with the start of the blooming period for plums. I saw it for myself on this well-timed visit and thought it was quite impressive – not, perhaps, being completely blown away by the art but nonetheless admiring the skill and technique of the artist.

The museum also includes a rather splendid Nō theatre which seats about 500.

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Out back are some fine gardens and a teahouse.

One particularly impressive outdoor exhibit is a reconstruction of Ogata Kōrin’s residence, rebuilt in 1985 using surviving Edo-period documents.

Ahh, that was good. But we’ll need to hurry back to Tōkyō now. Remember, today’s the 3rd of February, and in Japan that means . . .

To be continued.

4 responses to “Field Report: Atami, Japan (03 February 2014)

  1. Pingback: Field Report: Tōkyō (03 February 2014) | Within striking distance·

  2. The interior of that train certainly does look familiar! I remember riding on a Kodama but the number escapes me. Like you, we also favor the green cars, pretty much for all the reasons that you mentioned. It’s also a happy thing to get a free drink with your ride in certain green cars!

    I really wish that I had a greater interest and appreciation for art. While we will go to museums during our time in Japan, it’s mostly to types of an interactive nature (Edo-Tokyo Museum) or historical (Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum/Historical Village of Hokkaido) or very genre specific (Ghibli Museum). But I have to admit that I did enjoy the Open Air Museum in Hakone during this last trip. While I had no real understanding of the meanings behind any of the artwork, some of the pieces did provoke stirrings of certain emotions and feelings. So perhaps there is hope for me yet!

    That being said, this museum looks quite impressive, I did love the tunnels you had to pass through while going up the series of escalators. Not to mention how pretty the views and back garden area was. We’ve never been to Atami, in fact, I’d never heard of this city before this post. Are there any other attractions that you would recommend going to in this area?

    • As a matter of fact, I had originally considered doing a more extensive tour of the city, based on the suggested tour put together by JR East.

      Unfortunately, my allocated day for Atami coincided with Setsubun and I had to rush back to Tokyo to observe the festivities (as outlined in the next post). All I managed to do this time was the museum, but I suppose it’s not bad for a first visit there – certainly seems to be the best single attraction in the area.

  3. Pingback: Field Report: Kakegawa (04 February 2014) | Within striking distance·

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