Onsen And Art: TeamLab At Mifuneyama Rakuen | CoolJapan

After a 70-minute drive from the Fukuoka Airport, you reach Mifuneyama Rakuen Gardens in Takeo City. At the foot of Mt. Mifuneyama (御船山), which literally looks like a stranded ship with its peak, the 50,000-square-metre garden unfolds. About 5,000 sakura, or cherry blossom trees; 50,000 azaleas; and other natural foliage swathe the vast land — changing their colours according to season. Home to ancient shrines and 3,000-year-old trees, the garden traces its roots as a holiday home of Shigeyoshi Nabeshima, the 28th feudal lord of the Takeo Domain in 1845. 

Mifuneyama during autumn©Takeo City Tourist Association

Mifuneyama Rakuen is made even more wonderful by Takeo Onsen hot spring — mildly alkaline, containing a variety of mineral elements for good heat retention and soft skin. There are two accommodations in the garden to stay for a night or two. 

Chikurintei RyokanLeft and middle: Chikurintei Ryokan; Right: Chikurintei View (©Takeo City Tourist Association)

After living abroad for many years, an onsen is definitely my calling as a Japanese whenever I go back to my country. I stayed at Chikurintei ryokan which has only 11 rooms with a private onsen bath, typical yet gorgeous furnishing, amazing kaiseki dinner and services. Highly recommended. But this time, my purpose of staying at this ryokan was not only for the quality of its onsen.

teamLab at Mifuneyama

My true mission in coming here was to immerse in teamLab’s large-scale exhibition this year, entitled “A Forest Where Gods Live,” featuring over 20 interactive light installations scattered across the 50,000-square-metre garden. The Japanese art collective has been working with Mifuneyama Rakuen for the last five years, taking to heart its Digitized Nature project.

On its website, it explains: “Digital technologies such as sensing, networks, light and sound, are non-material and have no physical impact on the environment. By using such non-material digital technologies, nature can be turned into living art, without harming it. Nature itself becomes art. Nature has formed over a very long period of time. By turning nature into art we can gain a sense of the continuity of nature, that humans do not usually perceive.”

Exploring the garden after dark, the existence of giant rocks, caves, ponds and forests start communing to us, blurring a border between human and nature through moving lights and colours, under the technological magic of teamLab's iconic projection mappings.

teamLab pond©Takeo City Tourist Association

One of the highlights is The Dance of Koi and Boats, set at the Mifuneyama Rakuen pond. This ten-minute show presents colourful strokes on the surface of the ponds, responding to the movement of  Koi and a slow-moving boat.  

For the indoor exhibits, I especially liked an interactive installation called Megaliths in the Bathhouse Ruins, located in an abandoned bathhouse.

As schedules of the exhibits change frequently, interested visitors should check the official website for more details.

Full-scale exhibitions like “A Forest Where Gods Live” usually run from July to November. For the remainder of the year, nature retains its right to showcase its beauty, such as the time for cherry blossom, when the leaves change their colours, or when the garden is covered with snow. At those times, the outdoor exhibits are vacated and only indoor installations remain.

Would it be worthwhile to plan to travel all the way out to Kyushu for this? Surely. Aside from it being a way to beat the crowds at teamLab’s popular museums in Tokyo, a trip to Mifuneyama Rakuen is a feast for the mind, body and soul.

Chiaki is born and bred in Japan. Loving good meal, sake, traveling and sometime Argentine tango. After being a travel junkie last 20 years --visited over 30 countries, her passion is now to share the beauty of Japan with foreign visitors.
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