Awaji Island is about 2 hours from Kyoto by train and I almost didn’t go after one too many beers last night watching France beat Wales in rugby semi final. However I’m very pleased I made the effort.

Trains only took me so far and I had to catch the bus to cross the amazing Akashi-Kaikyō suspension bridge.

From here it was a bit of a hike to visit Honpuku-ji, the Water Temple. To reach the temple I had to pass through the original temple compound and cemetery before passing through two very high curved concrete walls. On turning the corner the water pool was immediately in front of me and after the rather long journey to get there it was somewhat surprising to finally see it all at once.

Walking down the stairs, through the water, leads to the sacred temple beneath which is set within a circular timber room painted blood red. Natural light from one end of the pool above illuminates the Buddha and creates an amazing atmosphere.

Another 30 minute walk in the baking sun lead me to Awaji Yumebutai which was the surprise of the trip so far. I was expecting another concrete Ando structure but what I found was something else – it was the largest constructed landscape I have ever seen and consisted of a hotel, chapel, conference centre, various gardens, two huge greenhouses and several outdoor theaters. In a word, massive.

I’m beginning to understand Ando’s aesthetic and recognise various design elements here that I’ve seen elsewhere on my tour. Below is a chapel which is set below ground and is naturally lit by a cruciform shaped void in the ceiling- only the bell tower and glazing can be seen from above which appear to be floating on a pool of water.

On their own each area is thoughtfully designed but as a whole I found it didn’t hang together that well. Landscaping perhaps needs to be more naturally expressed.

I almost made it to see the 4×4 house(s) on the Kobe coastline but had to push in order to return to Kyoto in time to watch the NZ v Australia rugby semi final, which I’m pleased to say NZ won rather convincingly. Next time then.

How to visit

Below is the map I used to navigate myself to Awaji Island.

View Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Awaji and Himeji in a larger map

To Awaji Island:
From Kyoto I took the JR line to Maiko Station (around 50 minutes). At Maiko Station follow signs to the bus terminal – you can take either the stairs or lift as the bus station is above the train station. You need to take the bus to Higashiura station – note they will not accept your railpass.

Honpuku-ji (the Water Temple) by Tadao Ando, 1991
Address: 1-22-30 Honkatata, Otsu, Shiga Prefecture 520-0242, Japan
From Higashiura the Water Temple is a 20-30 minute walk, ask at the bus terminal and they will provide a very useful map. There is bus which loops the island and includes both the Water Temple and Awaji Yumebutai as stops, however I decided to explore on foot. It’s well worth the effort.

Awaji Yumebutai by Tadao Ando, 2000
Address: Yumebutai, Awaji City, Hyogo Prefecture
You can easily walk from the Water Temple to Awaji Yumebutai – it will take you around 30 minutes. Otherwise wait for the bus.  You’ll know it when you’ve arrived, just look out for the hotel.