On the weekends, Maebashi may appear sleepy and lifeless – but don’t let that fool you into thinking it has nothing to offer visitors. Much of this medium-sized city in Gunma prefecture remains hidden from plain sight, but coupled with the neighbouring city of Takasaki, it’s got an art and architecture scene that flies largely under the radar of many travel publications.
Central to Maebashi’s newfound appeal is the recently opened Shiroiya Hotel. This spectacular venue can rightly be called a destination hotel: it looks like a brilliantly conceived contemporary art museum, but one which you can also spend a night in. There is just art everywhere – in every room, at the reception, along the corridors, etc.
The hotel’s Heritage Tower is a rework of the former Shiroiya Ryokan which, prior to its closing in 2008, served as a landmark of Maebashi for 300 years. Through the vision of internationally renowned Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, whose long list of credentials includes the 2013 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London and more recently his appointment as the design producer of the upcoming 2025 Osaka Expo, the boxy four-storey building has been given an exciting transformation.
The central portion of the building was gutted, and floors removed, to create an airy, lush plant-filled atrium that doubles as a lounge. The columns and beams were left intact, their raw concrete appearance accentuated by Argentenian artist Leandro Erlich’s massively wide-reaching Lighting Pipes.
It’s a visually striking space that could rival some of Tokyo’s chicest restaurants and bars. An admirable feat thanks also in part to the on-site restaurant conceived and supervised by Hiroyasu Kawate, the chef-owner of the two Michelin-starred Florilege in Tokyo. Naturally, the Restaurant at Shiroiya also takes a similar French-inspired modernist cuisine approach in championing local produce.
Behind the Heritage Tower is the jaw-dropping, newly built Green Tower, which looks like a grassy hillock but with embedded rooms. The architecture is wildly imaginative, inspired by the ancient riverbanks of the region.
Between the hotel’s two towers, Shiroya offers just 25 rooms, each featuring works by a different artist. Four in particular are Special Rooms with one-of-a-kind designs by four respective creators, including the hotel’s architect, Sou Fujimoto. Here we take a look at some of the biggest artists who either created unique rooms or whose works grace the public spaces in this amazing art hotel.