The setting for many of the weddings in Tokyo is the magnificent Meguro Gajoen, which I discovered by coincidence one day as I strolled along the Meguro River. I was walking back towards Gotanda and suddenly came upon a massive, towering building that seemed out of scale for the neighborhood. Curious, I revisited the site on my day off and discovered an extravagant world of art, design and architecture.
I first entered the slick Arco Tower with its serene white, glass and steel interior eventually leading to café in an adjoining building that featured a soaring wood beamed ceiling with the corporate offices of Amazon, Tokyo situated on a deck above. The café overlooked a garden courtyard and small pond with a graceful shrine–like structure connecting the buildings. After a brief snack, I continued on and entered a large hall and was surprised to see a long curving wall lined with over 300 ft. of fantastic wood carved murals! The elegantly dressed figures of Japanese women rendered in motion, rapt with expression, were characters illustrating various narratives played out against a panoramic backdrop of the seasons.
I followed the glimmering hallway which led me towards delightful wonders revealed at every turn—restaruants, wedding halls, an indoor pond and waterfall, a luxurious hotel, gardens and art–lots of it–all housed inside a looming terrarium-like habitat. I literally spent two afternoons exploring this vast richly decorated building–a perfect place to spend a rainy day.
After some research I was able to find out some history on this unusual compound. Meguro Gajoen was established in 1931 as a social outlet consisting of lavishly decorated banquet, wedding halls with other related services and amenities on a much smaller scale than the current grand incarnation. Extensively adorned with hand crafted wooden panels, murals, portraits and gilded ceilings and more. Many of the images are based on the Japanese fairy tale “Palace of the Sea God.” Now a popular setting for weddings in Tokyo, Meguro Gajoen was meant to be a refuge for the citizens of Tokyo during a difficult time. Viewers could be visually transported to an idealized world of imagination and fantasy. After successfully existing on this site for more than fifty years, the original building was torn down to allow for commercial development along the Meguro River. Fortunately all of the artwork was salvaged and restored–even the antique rooms have been seamlessly re-installed, including the “100 Stairs” on one of the upper floors.
I continued to walk each floor transfixed by so many marvelous treasures. Finally, exhausted and over-stimulated by sensory overload and a dead camera battery, I returned again at a future date to take it all in. On my second visit there, I was fortunate to be there on a quiet afternoon and a courteous attendant let me to enter the foyer of the glorious chapel to take pictures, but I was not allowed beyond the threshold. Yet, still a rare opportunity to snap away un-inhibited and also by chance, to see a couple being photographed for a wedding portrait.
This monolithic compound is now a valued cultural asset of Japan. Overall, I found Meguro Gajoen brilliantly presents a balanced and harmonious unity of modern architecture and traditional imagery. The scale of the contemporary architecture provides a clean and spacious backdrop for the lavish weddings and rich art on display, allowing the viewer to absorb the fine details of the visually compelling works or festivities. In addition, the self-contained environment provided a comfortable place to leisurely spend time, host a wedding or an event, or perhaps stay a while in the luxurious hotel. This tremendous project must have taken years to complete, especially if one considers the respect for artifacts, consideration of cultural traditions and the collaborative efforts of many individuals involved in creating an enduring showpiece.