Okayama: Karuizawa of West unveils new attractions

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Kaze no Ha pavilion is set to open in July in the Hiruzen Kogen highland in Maniwa, Okayama Prefecture.

MANIWA, Okayama — A complex of facilities designed and supervised by world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma is scheduled to be completed next month in the Hiruzen Kogen highland, a tourist spot in Okayama Prefecture, after being moved from Tokyo due to the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics.

“GREENable HIRUZEN” has a pavilion building, a museum and a cycling center. The pavilion is 18 meters high and utilizes 360 cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels made from lumber from Maniwa. Kuma used the forests in Hiruzen as inspiration when designing the building, employing the CLT panels to convey the image of leaves soaring in a spiral. The pavilion was given the nickname “Kaze no Ha” (Leaves in the wind) after a nationwide competition earlier this year to find a suitable name.

The building was to be completed in Harumi, Tokyo, near the athletes village for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games at the end of 2019, with athletes and tourists from various countries able to take in its spectacle. But the Games were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it was moved to the highland along with the museum building.

CLT, which is used in both buildings, is said to be a next-generation building material. By emphasizing the fact that wood, unlike concrete, can be recycled after dismantling, the Maniwa city government aims to interest tourists in the sustainability of wood.

The Hiruzen Kogen highland stretches 20 kilometers from east to west and 5 kilometers from north to south at the foot of the 1,100- to 1,200-meter-high mountains called Hiruzen Sanza (Hiruzen three peaks), which borders Tottori Prefecture.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Jersey cows graze in the Hiruzen Kogen highland.

It is not only popular for its idyllic sceneries of dairy cows grazing leisurely and the natural beauty of the four seasons but also for its local delicacies. In Mikigahara, the center of tourism with hotels, wineries and other facilities, there is the Hiruzen Kogen Center — a leisure facility with an eye-catching 50-meter-high Ferris wheel.

It has become a popular spot, visited by more than 2 million people a year, and is also called the “Karuizawa of the West,” after Karuizawa — Japan’s representative recreational area in Nagano Prefecture.

Development began around the early 1950s, and around 2010, about 2.5 million people were visiting the location every year.

However, with the development of the transportation network in the Sanin region, with its ease of access to numerous locations, the number of visitors decreased to 2.23 million by 2019, requiring new measures to attract visitors.

The soon-to-be-opened complex has been drawing attention as a new tourist attraction. Visitors can view Kuma’s work of art, the Kaze no Ha pavilion, even on rainy days from inside the building. The museum also is suitable for indoor tourism, as it can hold workshops. And there are many outdoor recreational activities in the Hiruzen highland. Expectations are high that this recreational spot can be enjoyed no matter the weather.

“We would like to make effective use of this facility even on rainy days and improve the attractiveness of Hiruzen,” said Hisashi Kameyama, secretary general of the Hiruzen tourism office.

A map of Hiruzzen Kogen