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“The Making of Setouchi Glamping”
~ Key Creator Reflects on this Innovative Project ~

Stretching out before the eyes is a spectacular view of the tranquil sea, and Seto Ohashi Bridge. In the background, the lush natural landscape of Setonaikai National Park. Celebrating its grand opening, nestled in the midst of this sanctified environment, is Setouchi Glamping. Now expanded in scale, it is newly emerging in reflection of the findings of an extensive trial lodging program. To learn more, an informal talk was arranged between Yasuyuki Kawanishi, architect and designer in charge of creating the integrated design of the facility, and Hisanori Nagayama, President of the Shimoden Hotel Group, operator of the Setouchi Glamping grounds. During their exchange, these two gentlemen assessed the appeal, commitment and other aspects of this visionary undertaking.

Luxurious location, basking in the breathtaking natural setting of the Seto Inland Sea and Mt. Washu

– Please describe your impressions of the Kojima and Mt. Washu area, location of these glamping facilities.

Kawanishi: Born and raised in Nara, I never had much contact with the ocean. When I did have occasion to gaze out at the sea, in reflection of my landlocked upbringing in Nara Prefecture, I would excitedly exclaim – “the ocean!” On this occasion, having been requested to undertake an integrated design, I visited this site for the very first time. As expected, I was astounded by the majestic natural backdrop. Here, the ocean majestically expands before your very eyes, with an array of hotels appearing to be waiting for traffic to cross over on Seto Ohashi Bridge. Lovelier than words can adequately describe, I sensed the presence of boundless treasures yet to be uncovered.

Architect, designer, President of ICHIBANSEN/nextstations Co., Ltd. Yasuyuki Kawanishi

Nagayama: For myself, a native of Kojima, the smell of the sea and the sound of the waves have always been part of everyday life. For that reason, I don’t get all that excited about “the ocean!” as such (chuckles). However, I certainly was able to take great pride in the work performed in the rich setting of the Hotel Washuzan Shimoden. The site of the newly constructed glamping facilities is also notable, in view of the fact it was the location of a hotel up to around the mid-1960s. While several decades passed without discovering a proper method of utilizing the area, it was actually a blessing that the spot remained dormant all that time. With urging from West Japan Railway Company, we eventually embarked on the Setouchi Glamping project, a brainchild that reopened my eyes to the precious value of that locale.

President of the Shimoden Hotel Group, Hisanori Nagayama

The key concept is the designing of time and the creation of space that can only be found here

– What was the keynote theme as you set out to conceive an integrated design?

Kawanishi: My first proposal may be described as the “quest to design time.” The colors of the Seto Inland Sea and the skies above those waters literally evolve from moment to moment, with those changes truly exquisite to the eye. It was my impression that we needed to empower guests to fully savor those landscapes to their hearts’ delight. The grounds of the Hotel Washuzan Shimoden, meanwhile, offer rich options of strolling along the seashore or through pine forests, savoring large bathing areas, pools and other fascinating activities. By raising what I would describe as the “migratory instincts” of guests in wandering through the grounds, I am confident that this will handsomely augment the time spent here.

Nagayama: With a steady stream of glamping facilities being opened throughout Japan, it was our desire to distinguish our location from the others from the very start.

Kawanishi: As we moved to launch the project, I spent time touring a number of other glamping facilities. From that, I came away with the impression that all of those locations had enriched their facilities with the main focus on cabins. On that point, for Setouchi Glamping we have devoted great efforts to fully instilling the pleasures of outdoor recreation, the lavish natural setting and the convenience of a fine hotel. Examining what we have created, I feel confident that there is no other glamping facility of this caliber anywhere in Japan.

Nagayama: This extends to the interior decorations of our dome tents, in which Mr. Kawanishi has truly unleased the full scope of his creative instincts.

Kawanishi: Another theme into which I channeled my efforts was the pursuit of “creating spatial dimensions only available here.” More specifically, this particularly refers to the decorations inside the hemispherical shaped dome tents. Those touches are coordinated to enable visitors to come into direct contact with the sensations of the Kurashiki area and other local touches distinctive to Okayama Prefecture.

View of the interior of a dome, supervised by Mr. Kawanishi, newly installed for the grand opening. During the daylight hours, natural outside light gently penetrates the interior. After dark, tranquil lighting tenderly illuminates the space with a very special touch.

Pooling of Okayama craftsmanship in the furnishings and other interior decorations.

– What specific regional specialties from Okayama Prefecture did you incorporate into the design?

Kawanishi: Our five corporate collaborators included Betty Smith (denim curtains, bed throws and other items), Kurashiki Hanpu (tent door curtains, tablecloths, etc.), Nakao Lamp (interior lighting), Waki Woodwork (sofas), and Nishiawakura Mori No Gakko (flooring materials installed beneath the sofas). We conveyed our wishes to each of these companies for use of tasteful theme colors. Those hues included deep blue in the image of the ocean and skies, sun-soaked white reminiscent of desert landscapes, and dark brown as a complimentary color reflecting the distinctive townscape of the Kojima area. We also expressed the desire for use of natural materials. These suppliers took our requests to heart, and proposed what proved to be the optimum items for each phase of the project.

Nagayama: Living in the local region for many years, it often proves surprisingly difficult to distinguish the admirable workmanship existing right before your eyes. I must admit that I had never heard of some of these companies or their products. As it turned out, however, the smooth coordination furnished by Mr. Kawanishi was truly superb, with all of his selections impeccably matched to the dome space.

Kawanishi: All of the products were carefully chosen by the companies to meet our needs. During glamping excursions, for example, guests tend to spend more time on the sofa than anywhere else. Upon entering the tent, the sofa is where they will immediately sit down to rest. It was for this very reason that we insisted on sofas with fine quality and designs that our visitors will not grow weary of. For the interior lighting, with this facility located in the midst of a pine forest, the image adopted was that of an oversized pinecone. When such lighting is viewed directly, it tends to excessively act as a glare. When light is reflected off of some surface, however, it is rendered far softer and gentler to the eyes. In our case, pinecone shaped lighting attachments fashioned from Japanese cypress wood fulfill that role with a magnificently placid touch.

Nagayama: On the power of such partnering with local companies, we have high hopes that the culture, industry and other aspects of the Okayama region will become greater known and esteemed.

Kawanishi: For example, we are delighted when guests lodging in our domes see and touch the denim curtains, and then wonder, “How did Kojima become a denim production center?” Such experiences hold the key to attaining new knowledge, enriching peoples’ stays and hopefully leading to return visits. In my opinion, this is the essence of sightseeing at its very best.

■ Local Okayama specialties used in dome interiors

Denim: Betty Smith
“For the curtains, I viewed the same type of product at a Betty Smith plant, and requested creation of custom-order sizes to meet our needs. The deep color of the cloth acts to absorb light, helping to generate relaxed and peaceful dimensions.” (Kawanishi)

Tent door curtains, etc.: Kurashiki Hanpu
“The term hanpu refers to a canvas-like material with a long history of use in producing boat sails. It excels in water repellency, durability and other important qualities. In the past, I turned to Kurashiki Hanpu for the creation of accessory boxes for use inside the cars of the “West Express Ginga” special sightseeing train operating in West Japan, for which I was asked to create a design. The essential appeal of this material lies in what I would describe as its rustic texture.” (Kawanishi)

Lighting: Nakao Lamp
Lighting attachments fashioned in the image of an oversized pinecone. Unique color schemes are adopted in each dome.

Sofas: Waki Woodwork
Special attention is devoted to comfort, to allow guests to sit back and relax while gazing at the scenery outside the domes.

Flooring Materials: Nishiawakura Mori No Gakko
“We adopted wood tiles formed from Japanese cypress – a tree species for which Okayama Prefecture is famed as the nation’s leading grower. Distinctive patterns, in which cut sections of the growth rings are exposed on the surface, provide a special accent. This flooring is also distinguished by natural wood aroma and disinfecting effects, while the ability to cut it to desired contours is the key convenience much like that of conventional tile. In fact, I’ve installed the same type of flooring in my own office. (Kawanishi)

Nagayama: With this glamping facility operated by a hotel, we also devoted keen considerations to upholding and enhancing the privacy of our guests.

Kawanishi: All five of the dome tents are equipped with wood decks complete with sofas. For Dome 1 through 3, however, the deck sections are slightly lowered, in a design which incorporates the outside space. As guests move down to the deck surface, we want them to feel relaxed and bask in a sense of nestling in the midst of the sunken space. We hope this will generate the perception close of that of lodging in a pit-house-style dugout dwelling. We have also marshalled indirect lighting fixtures to lower the intensity and height of the illumination. With strategic blocking of the line of sight, the wind and lighting glare, guests are able to settle back and gaze at the changes taking place in the ocean waters right before their eyes. This is one example of the “quest to design time” that I touched upon previously.

Indirect lighting adopted for the deck space

With this facility situated within a national park, special considerations are also devoted to the natural environment

– Are there any points to which you attached particularly strong importance or thoughts in this undertaking?

Kawanishi: With this facility located inside Setonaikai National Park, we were determined to fashion structures in genuine harmony with nature. This included avoiding both impact on the surrounding environment and damage to the essential colors of nature – a stance mobilized in the selection of the design, materials and other features. For the design of the “pergola” (covered communal dining space) on the beach, we opted for a so-called hyperbolic paraboloid shell (HP Shell) structure. This is a method engineered to support the overhead “shade shelf” with a limited number of columns. The approach provided the key to light weight, together with outstanding durability and wind resistance. The unique configuration, which immaculately blends into the nearby landscape, comprises a design envisioned to resemble an eagle spreading its wings. This is an apt reflection of the meaning of the name “Mt. Washu” (literally, “Mt. Eagle Wing”).

Nagayama: We hope that the pergola will be enjoyed not only for dining, but also for weddings, parties and other celebrations. In fact, we have received such inquiries from guests – for example, requests for use in photographic sessions prior before wedding ceremonies. In response to such potential demand, we are thinking in terms of offering package plans to include wedding celebrations, parties and dome tent lodging.

Superbly satisfying stays rooted in the perspective of guests

– Please describe your vision and prospects for Setouchi Glamping going forward.

Nagayama: We received valuable input from guests who stayed at the facility during the trial lodging period. For example, “We spent most of our time relaxing on the sofas and gazing at the scenery,” or, “While we first worried about how we would spend our time, the day sped by before we knew it!” As such comments suggest, the majority of our guests tended to remain onsite and savor their time there, without doing anything in particular. With such patterns extremely close to the ideals that we have in mind, this was a very encouraging sign.

Kawanishi: Perhaps Setouchi Glamping will emerge as a force in transforming the lodging styles of the Japanese people. If guests who have primarily kept busy making the rounds of tourist attractions to date decide to largely relax in their lodgings instead, they may very well discover new value in such vacation patterns.

Nagayama: This could open up excellent opportunities to learn more about the true essence of lodging away from home. While the breathtaking location and our commitment to providing comfortable space combine to manifest the true charm of this facility, this is further complimented by our company’s DNA as an accomplished hotel operator. Taking such factors to heart, our aim is to treat our guests to fine dining derived from local ingredients and other meticulous services, moving to supply the luxury of “maximizing the caliber of the time spent here.”

Kawanishi: When all is said and done, my aspiration is to present a lodging facility warmly embraced by the natural setting of the Seto Inland Sea, enabling guests to profoundly sense the changes in the ocean and skies as time leisurely flows by. The key is supplying such experiences on the strength of the extraordinary setting, within an atmosphere that enables each guest to make their own special discoveries

◆ Click here for further details on the rich charms of Setouchi Glamping.

Japanese only

◆Click here for information on the Shimoden Hotel Group.

Yasuyuki Kawanishi

Architect, designer, President of ICHIBANSEN/nextstations Co., Ltd. Born in Nara Prefecture in 1976, he founded ICHIBANSEN in 2014. Recipient of numerous honors for his achievements – including renovation of Nakamura Station on the Tosa Kuroshio Railway line, designing of the Setsugetsuka resort train on the Echigo Tokimeki Railway and other creative projects. He was also involved in the designing of cars for the “West Express Ginga” special sightseeing train line in West Japan.

Hisanori Nagayama

Born in Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture. President of the Shimoden Hotel Group, operator of Hotel Washuzan Shimoden, Yunogo Bishunkaku and other premier lodging facilities. He is renowned for his continuing efforts to propose new lifestyles to customers on the strength of energetic introduction of progressive concepts and initiatives.

This talk was conducted in thorough compliance with contagious disease prevention measures detailed in the “Basic Policy for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Control” issued by the Japanese Government.

Click here for information on Setouchi Glamping.(Japanese only)


※All photographs are for illustrative purposes only