House with a View of Mount Asama

Karuizawa is a resort 150 kilometers northwest of Tokyo, in mountainous Nagano Prefecture. This sleepy little town, nestled 1.000 meters above sea level at the base of Mount Asama, became famous only after the British missionary Archdeacon AC Shaw happened to visit. Struck by its natural beauty reminiscent of his Scottish hometown, Shaw built a villa here in 1888. Since that time, Karuizawa, with its perfect summer weather, has been transformed into a popular retreat for Japan's elite. Just a stone's throw from the town center, rows of shops give way to majestic woods, while thick trees muffle the town's noises. Clouds rising from Mount Asama hang over Karuizawa Heights, giving it an almost mystical beauty.

The country house of Yoshikazu Suzuki is perched on a part of the Karuizawa mountainside that was recently developed for housing lots. Suzuki's lot has a beautiful view of Mount Asama, and, on its northern side, borders a deep valley's lush greenery, This narrow strip of land was not an easy site for a house because of its steep slope, but Suzuki fell in love with the beautiful view of Mount Asama from this location. He asked architect Yasushi Horibe to design a house for him here. After carefully considering the shape and inclination of the property and the view of Mount Asama from various points, Horibe developed the plan for the house. All existing big trees were to be left as they were found, with the house to be built nestled among them. The main room on the upper floor was designed around a big chestnut tree, almost like a theatre whose windows open onto the magnificent view of Mount Asama.

Modern architecture usually strives to achieve large column-free space. However, the architect chose to locate five rattan-covered wooden posts in the middle of the main saloon, reinforcing the feeling of it being a room in the forest. Horibe also believed that these posts would invite people to gather around them. The entrance porch leads directly to this saloon. Its wooden ceiling follows the slope of the roof that continues to the deep eaves. The result is an inviting ambiance, in which family and friends inadvertently find themselves relaxing against one of the columns while enjoying the view of Mount Asama.

One never tires of the opulent view of the outdoors from this house. The mountain scene changes from moment to moment and from day to day Nature also unfolds its magic according to the rhythm of the seasons. A mantle of fresh green covers the hills in spring; the groves thicken their dark green leaves in summer; autumn clothes the forests in fiery colors; and a blanket of snow settles over the hillsides in winter. One wakes up to the sound of birds singing and an occasional entourage of them flying across the sky, veiled in the morning haze. The house silently stands on a hill surrounded by constantly varying cloud forms, as the day gives way to the evening glow. This retreat truly awakens the soul to the taste of true luxury.

Balaustre Soppalchi

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Above: The architect has artfully combined Western elements with traditional Japanese techniques to create this retreat. Wooden furniture complements the natural wood ceiling, which is also visible past the windows. The floor is covered with the boards of sawara cypress, and the walls are of white painted plaster.

Right: This modem space has the emotive quality of traditional Japanese interiors. Five round columns bound with rattan ropes accentuate the Japanese mood. A Japanese-style low table surrounded by four posts placed in the center of the sitting room invites people to come together. Through wide windows, one can see the deep valley, whose scene changes from season to season. The physical division of space in a Japanese house occurs after a roof is constructed. This is unlike Western buildings where walls separating each room are built first.

Previous pages: This terrace has a panoramic view of a deep valley. White birches, which grow abundantly in Karuizawa Heights, stand next to the house.

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Top right: The wooden ceiling shows rafters made of cedar on ribs of Japanese red pine.

Right: Here is a modern space with the soft light filtering through shop screens, giving it a Japanese touch and a warm, welcoming feeling.

Left: These two poles together resemble the tor/7, a special gate seen at the entrance to Shinto shrines, invoking a sacred space amidst nature. Behind the columns stands a Western fireplace. Natural elements like fire were worshiped in ancient Japan.

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Above: The tiled bathroom has a traditional wood tub. Hiba cedar is considered to be one of the best materials for a bath not just because of its resistance to water but also because of its fragrance. A place for relaxation, this bath has been designed to create the illusion of bathing in natural surroundings.

Left: The lower-level patio has a wide opening toward the terrace, and a horizontal slit on the southern wall made of American red cedar allows the breeze to flow through. This space deverly exploits the topography of the land. The formwork for concrete was made of long wooden boards instead of plywood to achieve a richer texture. The harmony between the house's interior and exterior creates an ambience of peace and time-lessness as well as visual richness.

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