Feeling Spirited Away: A visit to Ghibli's Meguro Gajoen (目黒雅叙園) - Vikingess Voyages

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Feeling Spirited Away: A visit to Ghibli's Meguro Gajoen (目黒雅叙園)

The Gate (entrance to the banquet zone) with kawara (瓦) roof tiles
The elegant Meguro Gajoen has a history that stretches back to 1931, and is a must-see for visitors to Tokyo who want to experience a piece of Japanese history hidden behind the metropolis’ towering skyscrapers. The Gajoen is a relatively hidden gem among tourists as well; The old building complex surprisingly remains disregarded from the list of top destinations to visit in Tokyo, and even my friend who has lived in Tokyo for 8 years hadn't heard about it until I brought her along with me. 

“The old Gajoen has often been called a "department store" of ornamentation, or a Showa era version of the fairy tale Palace of the Sea God.
When the old Gajoen established in 1931, Tokyo was recovering from a devastating earthquake. Houses were cramped and barely equipped with electricity and running water, and the average person probably led a wretched life. In addition, home decorations available to the common people were limited. The old Gajoen might have been called a fairyland of sorts, which brought each of those people's dreams and fantasies together in one place."
The exterior of Meguro Gajoen

Some of you might have seen Ghibli's huge masterpiece, the Oscar-winning anime Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi / 千と千尋の神隠し). In fact, the acclaimed director Miyazaki Hayao is widely believed to have taken inspiration from Meguro Gajoen's marvelous architecture to make the castle featured in the movie.
Illumination @ Meguro Gajoen
But back to the history of the Ganjoen. The founder of Meguro Gajoen started his business as a first class Japanese restaurant, which was later extended with annex including banquet rooms, guest rooms, a shrine, church costume salon, beauty salon, and a photo studio. The Gajoen was thus the first "All-in-one" banquet or wedding complex to be built in Japan, and even today it is still open all year round hosting Japanese and Western style weddings.
A floater underneath the entrance gate
Fortunately, the building survived the ravages of World War II, but in 1988 part of the old Gajoen had to be torn down due to improvement work of the Meguro river. As a result, many of the artworks were detached and reattached to the new building.
Wooden panels with traditional motives

Inside the Meguro Gajoen you can find areas open to any visitors, such as the more than 100-meter long gallery with wooden panels pictured above. These are some of the art treasures of the Gajoen that were moved from the old building, and this area is open for anyone to take photos. When we visited they also exhibited some handicrafts next to the wooden panels.
The end of the gallery
The entrance to one of the bathrooms
It's not only the galleries in the Gajoen that is worth taking a look at: The complex features one of the most stunningly beautiful bathrooms you'll ever find in Japan. The bathroom is situated close to the end of the long gallery with wooden panels, so just follow the gallery and you'll get there.

After having passed through the elegantly decorated entrance to the bathroom area you have to cross a red bridge in order to get to the toilets. 
The bridge to the bathrooms
Inside the bathroom area, you can notice the beautiful ceiling (picture below)
Details from the bathroom ceiling
The ceiling in the various bathroom stalls is also worth taking a look at: 
The ceiling of one of the bathroom stalls
But enough about bathrooms. Meguro Gajoen started as mentioned as a first class restaurant, and the restaurants continue to offer some of the best cuisines in town. Here you can find the following options for a delicious meal in beautiful surroundings:
  • Tofutei
    A traditional restaurant surrounded by a beautiful Japanese garden
  • Shunyuki 
    A Chinese restaurant serving healthy seasonal dishes 
  • Club Lounge
    Offering a casual and relaxed atmosphere with Western buffet for lunch
  • Steak House Hana 
    The world's oldest Teppanyaki restaurant established in Osaka in 1948
  • Cafe Lounge Pandora 
    Provides a splendid view of the atrium garden. Serves as a tea lounge by day and a cocktail lounge by night.
  • Shop Maison G Tokyo 
    The Gajoen patissier, offering sweets with a mix of Japanese and Western flavor.
From the Cafe Lounge Pandora by day - Couple taking wedding photos by the waterfall
From the Cafe Lounge Pandora by night
From the Cafe Lounge Pandora

The pictures above are however all a part of the new Gajoen building. As a result of the improvement work of the Meguro river in 1988 mentioned above the only thing remaining of the old building is the stairway of 100 steps, Hyakudan Kaidan (百段階段) and 7 gorgeously decorated halls. These have gained status as Registered Tangible Cultural Property (登録有形文化財)  by the Tokyo metropolitan government in 2009.
About the Hyakudan Kaidan (Japanese only)
The Hyakudan Kaidan is also open to the public as a museum but you will need a ticket to enter. Prices vary throughout the year depending on what sort of exhibitions they are offering inside the halls. I visited for an exhibition called something like "a beautiful world created by handicrafts at the Stairway of hundred steps" (手芸で創る美の世界 at 百段階段) where we could enjoy both the gorgeous design of the seven halls and the exhibited art.
"A beautiful world created by handicrafts at the Stairway of hundred steps"

Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos inside the exhibition halls nor the Hyakudan Kaidan so the photos above are borrowed from Meguro Gajoen's official page. Instead, I took a photo of the elevator bringing us up to the exhibition area, which was decorated with a marvelous lion. But as you can see from my other photos; even if you don't have the opportunity to take photos or even enter the Hyakudan Kaidan area you will find more than enough other things to make the trip to the Gajoen worth it.

In 2009 and 2010 the Gajoen gained recognition by the Michelin Hotel Guide with a three-pavilion rating, so if you're staying in Tokyo for a short period of time and would like to experience staying a night at one of the more historical places in the metropolis I would highly recommend you to take the time to stop by Meguro Gajoen.

Basic information

Name of Place Meguro Gajoen (目黒雅叙園)
Address 〒153-0064 東京都目黒区下目黒1−8−1
Access 7 minutes walk from Meguro Station
Parking Free for staying guests
Homepage http://www.megurogajoen.co.jp/
Events http://www.megurogajoen.co.jp/event/

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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