Awaji Yumebutai, conceived by world renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando, is a one of a kind environment creation close to Awajishima’s northeastern tip and overlooking Osaka Bay. The project is intended to counteract some of the damage that modern development projects have had upon the natural world, while serving as a memorial to 1995’s Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake (the epicenter of which lies close by).
The attraction is built upon a dynamically sweeping hillside that was stripped of soil to provide materials for Kansai International Airport’s artificial island, which sits out in the bay. The brilliance of Ando’s design is in how it restores a sense of natural beauty to the site while simultaneously embodying the same boldly contemporary vision seen in his other creations, such as the Chichu Art Museum on nearby Naoshima and Tokyo’s 21_21 Design Sight.
Opened in 2000 and given a name translating as “Awaji Dream Stage,” the expansive site contains a number of outdoor installations emphasizing the magnificence of the natural world, along with facilities including shops, restaurants, and a hotel and conference center.
The highlight of Awaji Yumebutai, for most visitors, is the Hyakudanen (‘hundred stepped gardens’). This is a collection of precisely 100 square shaped and concrete encased flower beds, all 4.5 sq. meters in size and interconnected by some 235 staircases, covering a wide expanse of the hillside. Up close, the cubes enable chrysanthemums and other flora to be enjoyed all year round, but Ando’s concept manifests itself in full when the Hyakudanen is viewed from the top of the hill: the sight of nature encased in a mathematical, grid like system is at once breathtaking and thought provoking. Illuminated after sundown (by lights installed at precisely uniform intervals, of course) the effect is more impressive still.
Numbers are clearly a key element in Ando’s schema: besides the 100 flowerbeds of the Hyakudanen, the adjacent 10,000 sq. meter Shell Garden contains exactly 1,000 spurting water fountains and was spread manually with one million scallops. Both the Hyakudanen and Shell Garden form part of the 20,400 sq. meter Observation Terrace, which offers a spectacular panoramic view over Osaka Bay. Stark concrete observation towers, accessed by glass sided walkways, offer the best vantage points.
Awaji Yumebutai also boasts Japan’s largest greenhouse, the 6,700 sq. meter Kiseki no Hoshi (also known as the Plants Museum of Miracle Planet). Here a pair of glass rectangles intersect each other to form a structure of towering height, with the greenhouse taking the coexistence of man and nature as a theme. It houses a vast array of plants from across the globe. Again, this is a spectacle that gains even more charm when it is illuminated in the evening.
Elsewhere you will find an outdoor theater that periodically hosts performances of traditional Awaji puppet theater, the Promenade Garden, which is contained within a 380-meter-long glass corridor, and Koryu no Tsubasa port, which offers sightseeing cruises around the landmark Akashi Kaikyo Bridge.
Restaurants include Kitora, which takes advantage of the region’s freshest seafood, while the Naruto Chidori gift shop offers local culinary specialties to take home. If all this sounds appealing, then consider staying a night or two in Awaji Yumebutai’s on site hotel: the Westin Awaji Island resembles a sailboat, with all of its rooms having a great view of Osaka Bay.