Hidden away in dense foliage surrounding Lake Inawashiro, Fukushima lies Tenkyokaku.
Tenkyokaku is a lavishly decorated former villa. Imperial Prince Arisugawa Takehito decided to build Tenkyokaku after being impressed by the beauty of Lake Inawashiro during a visit to the Tohoku District. In fact, that is where the former villa gets its name.
Tenkyokaku 天鏡閣 translates as “The Palace of Heaven’s Mirror” – The palace beside a lake so deep, clear and blue that its beauty could only be explained by some divine connection.
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, a wedding venue and a space for lectures and exhibitions.
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 the impressive chandelier which can be seen below.
My tour guide explained to me that at the time of its construction, there wasn’t any access to electricity in the surrounding area, so the Imperial Prince ordered the construction of electric cable within the house, specifically so that he could light up the beautiful chandeliers, no doubt imported from France.
For somebody who wasn’t actually a blood relative of the emperor, the Imperial Prince and his family definitely a pretty sweet deal in life.
One of my highlights of the day was eating コロッケレー (fried curry bun) for lunch. It was so light and crispy…
The other highlight that I should mention was having the chance to dress in traditional clothing from the Meiji era. I was able to choose from a number of different dress styles, but I decided to try on the traditional dress of the Aizu people.
This dress was made from Aizu cotton (会津もめん), although it looked and felt like light denim to me. This style Aizu cotton dress was used for housework, and not for glamorous events. It was really interesting to wear a denim dress designed for the ease of movement that it allows, despite including the 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 the doorways and to avoid stepping on the hem. I was afraid of ripping it or getting it crumpled, especially when I tried to sit down, but I was repeatedly told “Don’t worry, just plunk yourself straight down. PLUNK.”
You’re able to take as many photos as you would like within the building, in many different areas. The tour guide even suggested ways to sit and the places 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…
Sorry, the dress-up experience is only for women at present!!