Photo/IllutrationThe main gallery in Enoura Observatory is a long hallway with artworks attached to a wall made of volcanic rock. Overlooking Sagami Bay, it is 100 meters long and sits 100 meters above sea level. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

What was your first memory?

For me, it’s blurred. I cannot say if the memory is really mine, or if it might have been constructed from what my parents told me or from looking at old photo albums.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, best known around the world as a photographer and architect, says that he clearly remembers his first memory. It was when he was 4 years old. He was traveling on the Tokaido Line with his parents, and outside the train window around Enoura in the city of Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, he saw the glistening waters of Sagami Bay, and he asked himself who he was. That was the beginning of his becoming “conscious.”

Enoura Observatory takes visitors back to Japan’s and humanity’s first moment of consciousness. The site is a manifestation of Sugimoto’s mental playground and is his silver halide print (in place of a canvas). The site is holistically designed with each composition placed with calculated precision and meaning.

The experience starts at the reception building where visitors are briefed while sitting at a marvelous table made from a 1,000-year-old Yakusugi cedar. Hands and elbows were on the uncoated matt surface marked with exquisite wavy grains and delicate holes.

I wanted to shout, “Get your grubby paws off this work of art!”

Yet, I knew that Sugimoto’s world is about the passing of time--evanescence and human consciousness, so I suppressed the urge.

There are currently 35 works to be savored, mostly made of stone, wood and glass. A 100-meter-long gallery that sits 100 meters above sea level is positioned so that the sun’s rays rise from Sagami Bay on the morning of the summer solstice and slowly shine their way down the length of the gallery.

There’s a glass stage aligned with the axis of the winter solstice that makes the stage glow as it captures the light. Uchoten or “Listen to the Rain,” is a tin-roofed Taian teahouse with a Stonehenge-like torii gate in front of the crawl door where the sun shines through on the spring and autumn equinoxes.

When humans became self-aware, perhaps we questioned our place in the universe, and we marked the solstices and equinoxes seeking meaning and the divine.

Sugimoto said he created Enoura Observatory with the vision that those who visit thousands of years from now will uncover beautiful ruins enveloped in nature grown wild.

I turned my head skyward and saw a sun halo. It must have been a sign to ponder the big picture and where we fit in.

What synchronicity!

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Aug. 5 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.