"As soft light passes in from the bay, subtle charcoal shadows fall across tables, gathering among glasses and pots, turning steadily darker with the sky."
Overlooking the still waters of Japan’s Ago Bay, the villas and pavilions of Amanemu rest beneath a slate grey sky. The resort is centred around an onsen, a mineral-infused thermal spring, which flows into the spa’s watsu pool and the private baths in each suite. The curving granite tiles of the villa’s pitched roofs recall the undulation of waves. Square terraces sink into the hillside among neat gardens of grass and gravel. Inside, planes of light, warm wood clad the floors and walls of the suites. A delicate design of interlocking spirals, joined in a woodworking technique called kumiko, adorns sets of cedar panels, which slide back to reveal wide windows, and the bay below. Dotted with islets, mounds and boats, the water is an ashen mirror to the clouds.
Designed by the late architect Kerry Hill, the villas and suites of Amanemu reflect the vernacular architecture of Japanese minka houses, as well as the traditional joinery exhibited by the nearby Ise Grand Shrine. This carefully maintained collection of shrines, dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, has been a site of Shinto significance since the fourth century BCE. The chanting of morning prayers rises from the slanting, thatched roofs and floats along forested trails. Further south, on the Kii peninsula, the ancient pilgrimage routes of Kumano Kodō weave through mountainous forests of maple and cedar, between shrines and settlements, and around hot springs and rivers.
It is the waters of such springs that bind Amanemu to its surroundings, and anchor it to Japan’s ancient tradition of onsen bath houses and inns, the oldest of which is thought to have been in use for the past 3,000 years. Submerging the body in the warm, mineral-rich water can ease joint, muscle, and nerve pain, and soothe the skin. Shaded day beds, positioned around the spa, offer respite from the hot temperatures of the spring. After bathing, the airy restaurant beckons, its vaulted ceiling arched like hands meeting in prayer. As soft light passes in from the bay, subtle charcoal shadows fall across tables, gathering among glasses and pots, turning steadily darker with the sky.