Tenkyokaku, a lavishly decorated former Japanese villa, lies hidden away in dense foliage surrounding Lake Inawashiro.
Imperial Prince Arisugawa Takehito decided to build Tenkyokaku after being impressed by Lake Inawashiro’s beauty during a visit to Tohoku, and named it Tenkyokaku 天鏡閣 (The Palace of Heaven’s Mirror) – The palace beside a lake so deep, clear and blue that its beauty could only be explained by divine intervention.
The Imperial Prince’s family owned the villa until 1952, when it was granted to Fukushima Prefecture. Tenkyokaku has since been used as a meeting hall, wedding venue, lecture hall and exhibition space.
As an artist, I was so surprised to hear that Tenkyokaku has been used to host gallery exhibitions. I would love to travel out into the Japanese countryside, surrounded by giant trees and the third-largest lake in Japan, to view an exhibition in this beautiful house.
Despite being restored in 1984, the building retains many of its original features, including impressive chandeliers.
My tour guide explained to me that at the time of its construction, there was no access to electricity nearby, so the Imperial Prince ordered the construction of electric cables within the house, just so that he could light these beautiful chandeliers.
For somebody who wasn’t actually a blood relative of the emperor, the Imperial Prince and his family definitely had a pretty sweet deal in life.
One highlight of the day was eating コロッケレー (fried curry bun) for lunch. It was so light and crispy…
Another highlight was having the chance to dress in traditional clothing from the Meiji era. I could choose from various dress styles, but decided to wear a traditional Aizu dress, made from Aizu cotton (会津もめん).
This style of Aizu cotton dress was used for housework, and not for glamorous events.
It was interesting to wear a denim dress designed for ease of movement, even though its design includes a corset and bustle of Victorian day-wear. (I had to look up the word “bustle”, as I realised I didn’t know the word for the frame that ladies used to fit under their skirts to support them. Well now you know!)
It was fun – although challenging at times! – to fit the wide frame of the dress through doorways and avoid stepping on its hem. I was afraid of ripping it, especially when I sat down, but I was repeatedly told “Don’t worry, just plunk yourself straight down. PLUNK.”
You can take as many photos as you would like within the building. The tour guide even suggested ways to sit and told me the rooms with the best lighting! Best of all, before I left, they presented me with a souvenir photograph of myself in the dress.
It was interesting to see how the wealthy in Japan exhibited their status through their lavish Western -style properties, after a long period of Western infatuation with Orientalism.
I would definitely recommend a visit to Tenkyokaku, so that you can experience a taste of the luxurious lifestyles of the Japanese aristocracy. And, if you’d like, you too can fantasise about being a rich Japanese lady, dressing as a rich Western lady whilst doing her housework…
Note: Sorry, the dress-up experience is only for women at present!!