Sajima Club: From Formula 1 think pad to private party space
What do Formula one great Ayrton Senna, "The Da Vinci Code," Honda, Ishimoto Architects Japan, Audi, Toys 'R Us and Frank Sinatra all have in common? Sajima Club in Hayama.
This stylish and opulently designed architectural intrigue was designed by Ishimoto Architects Japan for Honda as a corporate think pad in the heady pre-pop days of the bubble.
An act of seemingly physics-defying architecture, the refurnished house is re-opening its doors for weddings, parties -- whatever you choose -- and well, a night of living the high-life at bargain prices for Tokyoites.
The party house appears impossibly balanced upon the narrow entrance chamber, where only a spiral staircase leads up to the expansive second floor. Once you have ascended into the wide, naturally lit event space the house seems to be floating.
The building itself spans a formidable width with bold lines stretching horizontally out from the entrance.
It resembles the control tower of a freight ship in both its shape and position above the water. Is this an obvious allusion to Japan’s seafaring past and present or just a slick, bold modern Bauhaus influenced ode to Honda’s wealth?
It could be both.
The Sajima Club is in the middle of Japan’s prime coastal real estate. Surrounded by fishermen, and with neighbors like the president of Toys 'R Us Japan, the neighborhood is a mix of Japanese society elite and hard-working folk.
Neighbors of emperors
The area has a few extra draw cards too. There is Isshiki beach next to the nearby Hayama Imperial Villa, where the “Tokyo Emperor” died in 1926.
Up the road from the Imperial Villa is the house where poet Masaoka Shiki breathed new life into the Haiku under the patronage of Nippon (newspaper) founder Kuga Katsunan, although the original location of the house was elsewhere.
The emperor’s personal island -- Kasajima -- lies in front of Sajima Club's ocean-view windows.
Kasajima's small shrine gate is considered something of a local “power spot” if imperial spiritual concentrations of power are your cup of koucha, though apparently swimming out to the island would be seriously frowned upon.
Join the club
This former sleepover for turbo-charged Formula 1 world champion Ayrton Senna was handed back to the owners of the land five years ago. The Tuttle-Mori Agency -- who own the Japanese rights for "The Da Vinci Code" and "Howl’s Moving Castle" -- left the site to drift into vacant disarray for that time.
The advent of a large storm a few years ago tossed a huge buoy through the house’s second-floor window, gushing water in, and turning the spiral stairwell into a concentric waterfall.
This signaled time for change and the powerful neighbors asked for something to be done.
To the heart of things
Mitsuko Kuroda, a founding member of the Hanako magazine group and now head of the Mitsuko Kuroda Laboratory, was hired to create something new.
Kuroda relates that she was given a free slate to create. No restrictions on style or budget.
The contractor even asked whether they should pull down the house and build a new building, but Kuroda made the decision to keep the unique architecture.
“When I first came into this house I imagined it was like Frank Sinatra’s house. It was so grand, so I chose to put carpet on the stairs for an American house feel,” says Kuroda.
The effect is one of a lush welcome. The cushioned climb feels luxurious and warm compared to the cold, edgy exterior.
With the dinning tables costing around ¥1,000,000 a piece and the chairs ¥150,000 each, the mood is pricey playfulness, but it's probably best not to get too playful.
The space can handle up to 44 who need to park their posteriors, but for a standing affair it seems the sky is the limit. Which is handy, since the rental cost is fixed at ¥300,000 a night, so the more guests, the merrier and cheaper per person.
The only caveat is that one corner room is off-limits as the management office -- though thankfully they'll go home at night and leave it all to the revellers.
Just be sure to clean up come the morning.
The top floor's five bedrooms fan out, a surprise since you can only see the front wing of this cross-shaped level from the ground.
The invisible three arms house double bedrooms with the visible wing housing two single bedrooms. Oddly, room two is the bridal suite facing the ocean.
Yet, sadly and surprisingly the ocean view is blocked by a wall, albeit with a celebrity-style illuminated mirror for the Hollywood actor of the group.
For those with a love of nightswimming, or a wanting to freshen up come the morning after, a narrow path leads under the house to the ocean terrace on the seaside.
A shame then that the key feature is the one thus far neglected and the as yet unpainted area repels rather than attracts -- unless ruggedness is your thing.
If combined with underwater decking, paddling while sipping cool bubbly on a humid summer day could have been quite an ocean invitation.
Sajima is filled with designer trinkets, colorful cloth, tasteful and low-toned paint, stone and marble -- but these things can be found in many a swanky Tokyo apartment.
Few Tokyo apartments though, levitate over the Pacific Ocean and are open to Tokyoites to play out Formula 1 fantasies for a night.
Access: 3-8-21, Sajima, Yokosuka, Kanagawa
To get there: Zushi station from JR Yokosuka line, a bus bound for Sajima Marina stop (about 40 minutes ride), then three min walk.
Events space: ¥300,000 a day excluding catering, Studio: Still photography ¥30,000 – 35,000/hour with a minimum of five hours, Movie/VTR: ¥35,000 - 40,000/hour with a minimum of five hours.