House of Stone, Mure, Japan

“It’s a peaceful place. Being inside these stones is like being inside a cave and stepping outside changes the colour of the light and air. The world appears different.”

~ Masatoshi Izumi (1938-2021)

Dubbed a ‘modern temple’ by famed Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, Stone House, in Mure, southern Japan, is a compelling synthesis of competing trends in late modernist thought and design. The genesis of this dwelling also bespeaks a story of enduring friendship between Noguchi and the stone sculptor, Masatoshi Izumi (1938-2021).

In 1961, Noguchi, then 61, returned to Japan, to search for new artistic impulses. His search for forms with emotional resonance, and particularly “inner presences,” would soon bring him into contact with Masatoshi Izumi. Izumi was to become the primary translator in Noguchi’s conversations with stone over the next two decades. Infinitely generous in sharing his knowledge of stone and his resources with Noguchi, he would come to oversee the Japanese side of Noguchi’s increasingly complicated productions in stone, managing both large-scale commissioned works and the “private works” Noguchi made for his own pleasure.

Masatoshi Izumi (left) and Izamu Noguchi in Mure, Shikoku, Japan, 1987.

At the time Noguchi returned to Japan, he was already one of the 20th century’s most important and critically acclaimed sculptors, having created works that are at once subtle and bold, traditional and modern that set a new standard for the reintegration of the arts. But it was his Akari paper lamps that has endeared him to the general public. Shaped like lanterns, the word means light, but also implies the idea of weightlessness, the very opposite of stone.

Yet, stone and paper reunited in stately harmony in Izumi’s dwelling, popularly known as “Stone House”. Built in 1972, Stone House is a compelling blend of modernist and traditional design, rooted in the Japanese ethos known as wabi-sabi, which roughly translated, means a respect for the natural, the imperfect and the impermanent. To this day it remains both timeless and distinctly 1972. Noguchi appropriately dubbed it a “modern temple.”

Step into Stone House and you will be greeted with different versions of Noguchi’s Akari lamps, their warm light throwing shadows to the masonry work all around. A prominent structure and the spiritual core of Stone House is the circular column, a shaft salvaged from local Aji stone that still bears the scars of its violent removal.

Most structures shelter us from the elements and the world beyond. Stone House does the opposite, reconnecting its occupants to natural rhythms and cycles of geological and cosmic time. At night, the only illumination comes from Noguchi’s paper lanterns, but during the day, light spills in through the open clerestories and splashes against the rough-hewn walls. Every morning Izumi would wet the floors, a contemplative practice called uchimizu, while his wife Harumi arranges tableaux of wildflowers and fresh-picked fruit that change with the seasons. “It cheers the hearts of many people.”

Masatoshi Izumi in 2020
Noguchi’s distinctive Akai paper lamps.

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