This registered tangible cultural asset is now closed to the public, which is an absolute shame. 

In the town of Ome on the very northwestern fringe of Tokyo is an absolutely gorgeous place called Kajikaen. It’s an old ryokan, or Japanese inn, registered as a tangible cultural asset, that has been operating as an art museum for the last six years. Unfortunately, it closed its doors forever on April 16.

Our Japanese-language reporter Mariko Ohanabatake managed to visit it just before it closed and she can’t help feeling sad that it’s not available to the public anymore. She was so impressed with the space that she decided to document her tour so that some of its legacy could live on.

Ryokan-ken Shitsurei Bijutsukan Kajikaen, as it’s officially named (translated as Inn-building Traditional Room Art Gallery), was located right next to Mitake Station, which is close to Okutama, a beautiful hiking area in the northwestern fringe of Tokyo.

The trip from central Tokyo requires a transfer to the Ome Line at Ome Station, and from there the train passes through what feels like endless tunnels of greenery, offering occasional glimpses of a rushing mountain stream down lush cliffs, until finally you arrive at Mitake Station.

The area around the station afforded similar gorgeous views, surrounded by the vibrant greenery of nearby Mt. Mitake and the gently coursing flow of the Tama River. It had the kind of ephemeral natural beauty that you want to capture in a painting.

Mariko only had to walk one minute to Kajikaen, which sat on the banks of the Tamagawa River. Just from the outside, it looked like the kind of ryokan you’d find in exclusive locations out in the countryside, not right next to a station.

Kajikaen opened its doors as an inn and Japanese restaurant at the start of the Showa period in 1926. After the inn closed in 2017, the building turned into an art museum but maintained its original decor and design, displaying art within the beauty of traditional-style rooms.

The building itself was gorgeous. One would expect these kinds of elaborate designs in a tourist hotspot like Hakone, not in a more off-the-beaten-path spot like Okutama. It was said to have been built from a single cedar tree from Yakushima, and it was simply picturesque.

After paying the entry fee–a measly 800 yen (US$5.97)–Mariko was free to explore the building’s central rooms, banquet hall, and bathing rooms.

Everything seemed meticulously designed, making the inn itself a work of art. The construction was something of a relic; apparently, no plasterers in today’s day and age know the techniques used to build this inn, so no one could build another one like it today. No wonder it had been registered as a tangible cultural asset.

And of course, the interior wasn’t the only beauty to be seen. The views of Mt. Mitake and the Tamagawa River were to die for.

It was obvious that the original designer had carefully calculated how best to design the windows to take advantage of these views.

Some of the nature had been brought inside, as well. For example, the tokonoma, or alcoves for displaying art, also had fresh, seasonal flowers on display.

Beautiful art and furnishings decorated each of the rooms and the corridors. They all seemed like precious pieces, but were openly on display, unprotected by glass cases or divisional barriers.

What’s more, on closer look, many of the artworks were by extremely famous Edo-and-Meiji-era Japanese artists, like Maruyama Okyo, Ike no Taiga, and Hishikawa Moronobu. Mariko assumed they must be worth an absolute fortune.

The main hall was especially impressive. She couldn’t possibly fathom how much that room was worth.

Each of the works of art also had hand-written descriptions by the museum’s owner, and reference books on art were also available to browse. Everything, from the interior to the art and the scenery outside, was tastefully displayed. Mariko couldn’t help thinking that a visit to this place was worth far more than just 800 yen!

The ryokan, when it was in operation, had been the type of place where eminent guests lodged, and in the passageway leading between buildings, Mariko found autographs of famous actors and film directors. In the main hall, a poem written by the last emperor of China when he and his family came to stay at Kajikaen, was also on display.

Despite being equal parts architecture, nature, and art, Kajikaen has maintained an inconspicuous existence since its founding as a museum, open to the public but seemingly overlooked. It was a shame, because the space was understatedly luxurious.

It would be nice to think that, since the building is a tangible cultural asset registered with the country, it would never be torn down. But even if it remained standing, without someone to keep up with the care of the facility, it’ll fall into ruin. Beyond that, the building is, without a doubt, full of the character and sense of the owner, much of which might be lost in their absence, so the closing of this special place is doubly a shame.

Sadly, despite its amazing features, Kajikaen has hardly left a mark on the Internet; for example, it only has 31 reviews on Google Maps. When Mariko asked the owner about this, they responded, “Well, it’s going to close soon, so it doesn’t really matter.” Mariko felt so impassioned that she actually implored them to consider doing something, if only to leave a record of their amazing facility behind after it closed to the public. It might have been a bit silly to do something so unrefined in such a refined place, but Mariko thought it necessary to preserve this special slice of 20th century Japanese culture.

Sadly, Kajikaen is now closed and visitors may no longer explore its traditional-style rooms, beautiful old art, and relaxing atmosphere. But if you’re looking for more cultural assets to explore in the Tokyo area, you can still check Japan’s oldest beer hall, as well as as a 90-year-old traditional event space.

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