House of Light – Tōkamachi-shi, Japan - Atlas Obscura

House of Light

Tōkamachi-shi, Japan

This traditional Japanese-style house doubles as one of James Turrell's colorful works of art. 


This is no ordinary house. At sunrise and sunset, colorful fiber optic lights create a dazzling show. The lights slowly fade in and out while showcasing an array of hues that both complement and contrast the changing exterior light.

James Turrell, a contemporary artist known for his manipulations of light, was inspired to design this space by Junichiro Tanizaki’s book In Praise of Shadows. The house serves as both an art exhibit and an unconventional, meditative place to spend the night.

On the first floor is a traditional Japanese bath (ofuro) that is also distinctively lined with fiber optic tubes on the edges of the door and tub that glow red, green, and blue. The bath opens up to an outdoor stepping stone garden. During the sunnier months, guests can operate a sliding ceiling that opens up the main room to a square-shaped sky.

The house features traditional Japanese style rooms, or washitsu, where up to 12 guests sleep on futon beds on tatami floors. Guests can use the kitchen to cook dinner and breakfast and are encouraged to enjoy the illuminations together. The large windows overlook a bucolic Japanese mountainside covered in feet of snow during the winter and verdant greenery in the spring and summer.

Know Before You Go

James Turrell’s “House of Light” is located in Tokamachi, a small Japanese town in northern Honshu known for the Echigo-Tsumari Art Trienniale, one of Japan’s largest modern art festivals held every summer. The house is open for visitors year-round during the day and is available for up to 12 guests to reserve an overnight stay.

The house is about a 15-minute taxi ride from Tokamachi station on the Hokuhoku line via Echigo-Yuzawa station on the Joetsu Shinkansen line. Visiting hours are from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. It costs 500 yen per adult and 250 yen per child. Reservations to spend the night must be made in advanced online (the website is in Japanese and English). 

It's best to go during the summer, as the roof of "Outside In" is not opened during rain or snow.

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August 8, 2018

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