Japanese Weddings, Pt. III: “The Hall of Beautiful Ladies”

The final installment on the subject of Japanese Weddings is the “Hall of Beautiful Ladies” at Meguro Gajoen.  These portraits are uniquely distinctive because they illustrate, much like the figures in the wood panel murals, the exquisitely stylish variations of Japanese women’s fashion. Furthermore, I have learned that there are long held customs on the proper wearing of kimonos that are very similar to traditional wedding attire.  (The fascinating subject of Kimonos will be addressed in a future post).

These captivating vignettes of  “Bijin”– “beautiful” women that show so much personality and flair,  were salvaged from the old Meguro Gajoen.   As I slowly walked around looking up at the alluring medallions on the shimmering gold-leafed ceiling panels, I found myself wondering who were these stylish women with so much vivre? Models?  Or, notable women of their time?  (early 20thC, circa 1920’s-30’s)—their true identity is a mystery.

Complimenting these figures is the dramatic “Serial Mural of Trees,” —tranquil and graceful landscapes of flowers and trees transitioning through the seasons—winter, spring, summer and fall, that run along the upper wall spaces of the corridor and also reclaimed from the old Meguro Gajoen.  In addition, each woman’s portrait also represents a characteristic detail of a particular season.  I found out later that the landscapes were painted by artists who were members of the “Seiryu Shah Group.”  I did write down the name of the artists who rendered the portraits and murals, but I could find scant information on them:


The Seiryu Shah Group

  • Kano Sanraku
  • Anzai Keimei
  • Kimura Shikanosube
  • Obata Teiko
  • Sakagre Isso
  • Satu Mokuso
  • Hamade Siesho
  • Yamazaki Yutaka

Throughout the halls of Meguro Gajoen are breathtaking depictions of humans existing in the natural world. The timeless stories based on the constantly evolving cycle of life are displayed in a successive range of seasons, emotions and vividly colorful artistry.

Japanese Weddings Pt. II: Meguro Gajoen

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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.

Sightseeing: The Meiji Shrine

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Although I’ve been back in Los Angeles since July 2,  I have a few more stories to tell that conclude my experience in Tokyo. The last week of my stay there was a flurry of activities which made it difficult for me to keep up with the blog–last-minute sightseeing, final obligations to complete the teacher training, packing and traveling.  One of the sightseeing excursions was a visit to the Meiji Shrine which turned out to be a completely different experience than the Senso-ji Temple.  Serene and cool, the impressive Meiji Shrine complex is situated on 175  tree covered acres with adjoining gardens  that make up a surprisingly restful oasis located in the midst of Yoyogi Park.  You first enter a towering Tori gate which dwarfs any human being and then follow a shaded path through a lush forest of pines.   Along this tranquil walk on the path towards the shrine you pass a colorful wall of sake barrels  (nihonshu) which are donated for ceremonies and festivals.  Traditionally in Japan, sake has always been a way to bring gods and people together. Weddings and other services are often held at the Meiji Shrine and I have been told that if you can visit on Sundays, you may be able to see some of the ceremonies with participants wearing traditional kimonos.

After passing through another Tori,  you can view murals depicting the history of  the creation of the Shrine which is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken.  The site was chosen because they used to visit an iris garden there and the original shrine built-in 1915-1921 was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in 1958.  In addition, 120,000 trees representing 365 species were donated and planted on the grounds.

Before entering the grounds you must stop by the purification fountain (Temizusha) and cleanse your mouth and hands before prayer (left hand first, then right and mouth). Once you finally reach the inner precinct (Naeien, the outer precinct is called Gaein) you walk through the vast plaza to the Main Shrine building.  Customarily, you throw coins into the “Offering” box and then “bow twice, clap your hands twice and bow once again.” I then wrote out a prayer and sealed in an envelope which would later be presented at an altar.

There was a certain elegant austerity to the design of the shrine compound built of copper and cypress in the traditional “nagare-zukuri” style which lent itself to the hushed devotional silence of the surroundings. After roaming the grounds I went to the graceful Iris Garden which also had a koi pond surrounded by dense green trees.  It was hard to believe I was in the middle of bustling Tokyo.  As I started to leave I felt remarkably refreshed, I’m really glad I made it there…