Yusuhara is a town of a few thousand people, seemingly much like many others around the country. However, the town is in a class apart, as it is home to six buildings designed by the world-famous architect Kengo Kuma, who also designed the stadium for the 2020 Olympics.
While all six are beautiful, the Kumo-no-ue Library or “library above the clouds” is perhaps the most magical and envy-inducing for book lovers. The structure was built in 2018, and you can still smell the soothing scent of it many cedar beams. The airy library is open to book-lovers and visitors, and each surface seems to glow with polish. The ceiling is constructed to resemble an upside down forest, with countless beams that cross and re-cross, creating layers of light and shadow.
The playful levels and cute dioramas hidden among the shelves encourage visitors to explore. Unsurprisingly, almost all the books are in Japanese, but during my last visit I brought my own reading material and a laptop, and relaxed at the small cafe’ inside. The library is open all day, and is clearly an important meeting place for members of Yusuhara’s community, as children, older folks and students are all present.
But how did this little town come to be home of so many architectural gems? Apparently Yusuhara’s former mayor was good friends with the architect. Kuma was just starting to gain notoriety outside of Japan for his minimalist, concrete-based structures, and the mayor asked him to create a building for Yusuhara featuring locally sourced wood, as forestry was one of Yusuhara’s major industries. It was the period that he spent creating Yusuhara’s structures that became a major turning point in his designs, which have since become famous for their abundant use of wood.
Besides admiring the library, visitors can stay in two different hotels designed by Kuma. The more budget-friendly option is Michi-no-eki, which serves as both a hotel and a community market, and is sided with thick layers of straw thatch. The Kumo-no-Ue-no Hotel (currently closed for renovations) is connected to the massive wooden bridge-shaped art gallery also designed by Kuma. The remaining architectural marvels are the Town Office and an elegant welfare facility tucked behind the library.
The Yusuhara Town Library is open from 9am to 8pm. It is closed on Tuesdays and the last Friday of every month. You will be asked to remove your shoes at the door, so be sure to wear clean socks!