Yōrō, Gifu, Japan
For first-time visitors, a trip to Japan (and particularly Tokyo) can seem a little overwhelming. It’s bright, it’s loud and it’s very busy. Outside of the capital, most tourists flock to either Japan’s second largest city (Osaka) or one of its two cultural hubs; Kyoto and Hiroshima. However, if you have the chance, a trip to Gifu Prefecture is well worth your time.
Home to the idyllic farmhouses of Shirakawa-go and the ancient Nakasendo Walking Trail, Gifu is the true heart of Japan; both physically and emotionally. For those in Gifu Prefecture who are seeking a day-out that is architecturally unique, filled with natural wonder and equal parts baffling and fun: look no further than the ‘Site of Reversible Destiny’ located just outside Nagoya. To get there, take the JR Tokai Line from Nagoya Station to Ogaki, then the Yoro Tetsudo line to Yoro itself. It will cost ¥1170 Yen and take about 1 hour but is a very enjoyable journey. The site is right next to the station so is pretty hard to miss. What you’ll find when you arrive is a truly unique experience.
Experience is probably the best description I can give. It’s not a theme park as some reviews will call it and it’s definitely not a play-park for kids as others have termed it. So what is it? According to the official website, it’s a ‘carefully considered construction of undulating planes, shifting colors, and disorienting spaces, thus providing a place of purposeful experimentation’. Make sense? No, didn’t think so. Let me try.
The brainchild of a 40-year collaboration between Japanese artist Shusaku Arakawa and American artist Madeline Gins, the ‘Site of Reversible Destiny’ in Yoro Park is part of a much larger body of work from the pair’s ‘Reversible Destiny Foundation’. Arakawa studied at both the University of Tokyo and the Musashino Art University before moving to New York, where he met Gins. It was here they lived for much of their lives, even renting the ground floor of their building to a certain Bob Dylan at a time. Seeking to put the theory of their book, the ‘Mechanism of Meaning’, into practice, they designed architectural projects all around the world. Though they both passed away in recent years, their work in ‘procedural architecture’ carries on through the Foundation to this day and now includes a ‘scale-juggling’ escalator in Manhattan, a ‘Bioscleave House’ in the outskirts of New York and the ‘Reversible Destiny Lofts’ in Mitaka. These lofts recently featured in Season 5 of the hit HBO show ‘Girls’ and are available to rent on Air bnb if you want to see what it feels like to live inside the mind of a conceptual artist. There are also future plans for a ‘healing fun house’ in Palm Springs, residential areas in both Tokyo and Venice and even a hotel.
The ‘Elliptical Field’ in Yoro, the main attraction of the park, still remains their most famous work. Completed in 1995, it has been amazing and confusing people from all over the world for over two decades now. The total area is compiled of nine different ‘fragments’, or structures, with names such as the ‘Critical Resemblance House’ and ‘Exactitude Ridge’. All of which aim to make you re-think your physical role in space and thus, your real place in the world. When you enter you are given two things: a pamphlet and a helmet. The pamphlet explains how you should treat each installation to maximize your experience, while the helmet is to ensure you don’t ruin that experience with a fall. One of the main aims of the park is to make you lose your balance, something that is achieved through uneven surfaces, dark corners and Wonka-like tunnels. Crawl through the small spaces, marvel at the impossible buildings and stumble around this surreal fantasy-land. Just try not to fall over.
If you find your destiny wasn’t reversed here, and even if you did, Yoro still has lots to offer. Elsewhere within the park, lies Yoro Falls. It is one of the most famous waterfalls in the area, with a centuries-old legend that it tastes like the Japanese rice-wine, sake. The ‘Site of Reversible Destiny’ is unlike anything else in Japan, and in a country filled with robot-hotels, cat-cafes and wasabi-flavoured Kit-Kats, that really is saying something. At best, you’ll find your perspective on life altered by some conceptual art. At worst, you’ll have a truly memorable day out, safe in the knowledge that a great alternative is (literally) just around the corner.
Thanks to our guest blogger Patrick Jack! Patrick is an English teacher and travel writer, having worked in China, India and Japan. Keep up-to-date with his travels as he moves to Colombia, through his website www.paddyjack.wordpress.com.
You can also follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
*Photography by:Patrick Jack