Enoura Observatory: Stepping Stones

“Once the world was steeped in mystery, but now with our access to knowledge about so many things, we need to seek out new horizons for human awareness.”—Odawara Art Foundation

During the Edo period (1603–1867) of national seclusion and peace, Odawara was an important castle town that served as a post station on the Tokaido road connecting Tokyo in the East with Kyoto in the West. After Japan opened its ports to international trade and influence in the middle of the nineteenth century, Odawara faded in importance, as modernization on this stretch of the Pacific coast came to center instead on nearby Yokohama and Tokyo beyond. Consequently, and thankfully, Odawara and its environs have retained much of their old charm and outstanding natural beauty. 

In 2009, the world famous photographer, architect and Renaissance man Sugimoto Hiroshi established the Odawara Art Foundation here to foster the advancement of Japanese culture with a focus on the performing arts. In 2017, the Foundation opened the Enoura Observatory on a site close to Odawara overlooking Sagami Bay. The Observatory extends the Foundation’s mission to “assist in the reconsideration of history” from the production and promotion of performing arts to the revival of traditional architecture, while providing stunning new stages for the former.

A small stage made of smooth, flat Nebukawa stones harvested from the nearby Nebukawa quarry JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO


The expansive site features structures new and old that incorporate traditional Japanese building styles and methods, “bringing them to life to provide an overview of Japan’s architectural history.”

The structures, which include an art gallery, two outdoor stages, a tea house, miniature shrines and several gates, are dotted about a garden cut from old orchards and a bamboo grove. When I visited one morning in February, the orange trees were heavy with fruit, the nanohana were in bright yellow flower, and the birdsong was loud and like nothing I have ever heard before. What were those birds? Pterodactyls?

The beautiful, wild natural surroundings seem essential for a project such as this, where the idea is to reconnect us with our ancient past and revitalize our sense of wonder. Enoura Observatory thoughtfully limits access to only a small number of visitors at any one time to afford us the necessary time and space for such contemplation. 

View from the amphitheater over the Optical Glass Stage and the top of the Winter Solstice Light-Worship Tunnel JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO


The garden is a treasure trove too of rocks, stones and stone objects ranging from the fossils of prehistory to architectural finds from the Kofun period (250–592) and Kyoto Tramway paving stones of 100 years yore. These are laid out as stepping stones and guideposts to reflection and a renewed sense of self-awareness and place in time. 

A stone pillar here reads, “No hunting, No fishing” and dates from the days when the Buddhist doctrine of compassion toward all living things was law. A guidepost over there was chiseled in 1800 and states, “218 meters to Mt. Shigi.” At the back of the Fossil Cave—an old shed—a “stone rod” from the Jomon period (2500–1300 BCE) is enshrined in glass.

Stone statues and tablets from the sixteenth century collected by Hosomi Kokoan (1901–1978), a modern-day master of the tea ceremony JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO


The impulse to inward reflection at Enoura Observatory is accentuated by the careful placement of the stones and structures in alignment with the axis of the sun on the mornings of the four seasonal equinoxes. Though only a few people will ever have the chance to witness these precise moments of sunrise-structure alignment at the Observatory, the mystical atmosphere is nevertheless all pervasive and will be familiar to anyone who has visited Stonehenge in the United Kingdom—an ancient stone monument which is oriented towards the sunrise on the summer solstice—or other such ancient megaliths around the world.

“I believe that if we return to our ancient habits of observing the heavens, we will find inklings that point the way to our future,” writes Sugimoto in his guide to the Enoura Observatory.

Rather than share too many photographs here and blunt your sense of wonder, we encourage you to visit Enoura Observatory in real time and investigate the past—and future—with your own eyes.

Alex Hendy, The Japan Journal

Acknowledgments: Odawara Art Foundation, Enoura Observatory guidebook;

For more information and to book tickets:

Meigetsu Gate (“Full Moon Gate”) with a noren curtain bearing the Odawara Art Foundation logo at the entrance to the Enoura Observatory. Constructed in the Muromachi period (1336–1573), the gate originally stood at the entrance to the Meigetsuin Temple in Kamakura  JAPAN JOURNAL PHOTO



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