The triangle church in Karuizawa
It takes just one step outside of Karuizawa station to know that this place is not like any other in Japan. It’s like a parallel universe where Japanese landscapes combine with westernized architecture to create buildings the likes of which you’d find in a European ski resort. And, while this was pretty surprising for a place I’d never really heard of before, the history is even more intriguing.
The Canadian Missionary
In 1886, a Canadian missionary, Alexander Croft Shaw, came to the laid back town and proclaimed it an extraordinary summer get away, with a better climate and atmosphere than in Canada. Soon, people came flocking in from all over and transformed this small town into what it is today, leaving behind old jam recipes, new architecture and churches, the likes of which can still be seen now.
Shaw Memorial Chapel
Shaw Memorial Chapel is one of those places. Famously introduced and developed by the people who visited, it is a small, traditional church located at the far end of Old Ginza Street. The pathway itself is secluded in beautiful trees and spectacular autumn leaf displays, transporting you from the busy hub of the commercial street to the quiet and peaceful atmosphere surrounding the chapel. Take a stroll or a bike ride around the area to really sooth your mind and soul.
Although small, the architecture of the chapel and distinctive western style, complete with a statue of the man himself, is what keeps visitors coming to this historical spot. Religious or not, the dark wooden, slats and warming colours radiating from inside will charm you with both beauty and historical significance.
Shaw admired the peace and tranquility here and eventually proclaimed the whole of Karuizawa’s environment to be a ‘Natural Sanatorium’, or indeed ‘the hospital without a roof’. I think that is a truth still relevant today. Taking a stroll through the nature to this chapel will heal your soul, undoubtedly.
Karuizawa Kogen church
What a stunning piece of simple architecture this is. Once again developed by Alexander Croft Shaw, this wooden-hut like, natural structure is like no church I have ever seen. Far from those scarily large, grey stoned, echoing churches in England, which tend to go over the top with fairly horrific images on stained glass windows, this church is one that is set to calm and sooth the soul, as opposed to scare it into belief. Not surprisingly, such views were also shared by Kanzo Uchimura (a philosopher), Hakushuu Kitahara (a poet) and Touson Shimazaki (a writer), who gathered here to discuss things without feeling pressured to adhere to any particular thought or religion. More than a few times, I’ve entered a church in England and have been quoted something from the bible that I have no clue about (though I pretend I know what’s going on). But, this place doesn’t feel like that. It’s religion at its finest and that’s why they called this place ‘the true authentic heart’. I couldn’t agree more.
While this church aided in developing the Catholic culture here, regardless of religion, I think you could enjoy a visit to this church. The architecture and the way it intertwines itself within the nature is incredibly unique. The interior resembles the small, quiet, romantic wedding scene you might find in a movie. In fact, you can indeed have your fantasy wedding here!
This church is like something from a fairytale. The shape, the atmosphere, the feeling are all part of an organic style representing the notions of Kano Uchimura. It’s accompanying stone church is open to the public from Monday to Thursday, so be sure to visit if you can.
Feel as if you’re part of nature at some of the most unique churches in the world.