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Kiun-kaku, a touch of elegance in Atami

by Satoko Kawasaki and Reiji Yoshida

About 40 minutes from Tokyo by bullet train, the city of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, has long been a popular hot spa spot, attracting some 3 million visitors a year.

A roughly 10,000-sq.-meter compound with stately mansions and a garden, built and expanded by three tycoons, is also a popular tourist draw.

The Kiun-kaku structures, an elegant mix of Asian and Western styles, were once used as a hotel loved by a number of intellectuals, including novelists Naoya Shiga, Junichiro Tanizaki and Yukio Mishima.

It was here that Osamu Dazai finished “Ningen Shikkaku” (“No Longer Human”), a masterpiece of the modern Japanese novel, shortly before his 1948 suicide in Tokyo.

Nobuya Uchida (1880-1971), who made a fortune during World War I in the shipping business, built the first house, a Japanese-style structure, for his mother in 1919.

Next, Tobu Railway Co. founder Kaichiro Nezu (1860-1940) added two splendid Western-style houses and the garden. One of these houses, finished in 1932, has a guest room, dining room and sun lounge with interiors combining Japanese, Chinese and Western designs.

For example, the luxurious Western-style dining room features patterns from the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600).

The guest room is English Tudor, and the interior of the sun lounge, adorned with stained glass and tiles, is based on French art deco.

In 1947, Hyogoro Sakurai (1880-1951), a politician who ran a hotel in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, acquired the compound and converted it into the Kiun-kaku hotel.

The hotel was eventually closed and the compound is now owned by the city, which opened it to the public in 1999.

Kiun-kaku is about 20 minutes on foot from the center of Atami. It is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Wednesdays. The entrance fee is ¥500 for adults and ¥300 for junior high and high school students. Elementary school children and younger get in free.