The Yamamoto Grand Center is a gracefully aging architectural foible, tucked away in a quiet corner of Tochigi prefecture on a die-cut volcanic crag. Warm spring winds blow confetti cherry blossoms through its many gaping windows, fluttering with old receipts and leaflets in zephyrs around its stacked and musty furniture. In the Grand Hall, weeds grow up in molding grass tatami mats. Once a ribald conference and function space, its long abandonment has lent a solemn gravitas it could not have had in life.
The Grand Center was the second stop on my latest haikyo road trip with Mike. It was a last-minute addition to the itinerary, as I only managed to finally track down its location via Googlemaps in the early morning before we set off. Pulling up it struck me as beautiful, a kind of LOST Hatch on a hill framed with gorgeous cherry blossom trees, their petals wafting on the wind.
We parked in the old car park shot through with grass, and set off on preliminary explorations. At the foot of the small hill lay two other haikyo, one a hollowed-out Pachinko parlor, nothing but walls and doors, with a tiny apartment on top up a very steep flight of wooden stairs. The walls and curtains were a delicious range of beige and brown, the true colors long since faded by the sun. I took photos but none of them came out well.
The other structure was a long low rough-stacked oblong of breeze-blocks with a corrugated roof, filled with 8 compact toilet cubicles, most of the metal doors off their hinges and blocking entry. I didn’t bother trying to force my way in- a toilet is a toilet really.
Mike had already gone on ahead, partway up the road circling round the complex and staring up at one of the big crags jutting out of the wall. It was as if the Grand Center had been built as normal, then some behemothic Golem’s hand had reached up out of the Earth to clasp the structure about the edges, squeeze, then stop, leaving its rocky fingers embedded in and through walls, ceilings and floors.
I moved on up to the gate, hanging listlessly open, and into the courtyard through a tall and wide opening in the building. To either side lay steps of stone flags, and I noticed much of the Center was built with raw stone. This is very uncommon in Japanese architecture I feel- most modern structures are built either with plywood and twigs or iron and concrete. Actual stone blocks built around actual volcanic crags caused me to like the building more, to like the person who’d designed it. Walking around its interiors I felt a similar way- the rooms and halls were tall, spacious, and airy.
Mike and I went our separate ways. I crossed the hall over the gate and descended into a wide reception area for the onsen (hot spring). The bath itself was not so large, but looked out over the small valley through a wall of frosted glass. I got a good feeling from it.
I moved over to the other side and met Mike in the grand hall. I took numerous wide-angle shots of the place, but none of them are very interesting- they’re just depictions of a space with no sense of subject or movement. In the future I’ll leave that sort of thing to the video to show.
I cast around and found some interesting angles and subjects to capture.
After that there wasn’t much left to see. I went up to the roof and saw a huge Buddha over a nearby crag. I pointed it out to Mike and we determined to head over after we were finished.
For my last stop I crossed over the courtyard to what was once a restaurant. Again, wide shots failed to capture the intrinsic appeal of the place, so I attempted a few novelties.
This is a gust of wind blowing receipts and leaflets in a zephyr around musty old furniture. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Actually I tossed these papers into the air and snapped shots of it quickly. It reminds me of doves swooping out in gunfire bursts in John Woo movies.
Here’s some video:
Location – Tochigi.
Entry – Easy, through an open gate.
Highlights – The overall spacious, graceful, well-designed feeling of the place, built into the rock. Shooting thrown paper, and spying a tall Buddha from the roof.
RUINS / HAIKYO
You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here.