What happens when hygge – the Nordic way of life that prioritises warmth and comfort – meets a Japanese reverence for nature and the environment? The answer is an otherworldly campsite that looks like it belongs in the fantasy realm created by Hayao Miyazaki in the hit animated film Princess Mononoke (1997).
As most cities around the world went into lockdown in 2020, a crack team of Danish and Japanese designers set about working on a sustainable project that would change the way tourists interact with their surroundings. Set to open along the fringes of one of Japan‘s most densely populated areas, the result is this concept for Hygge Circles Ugakei in the thick forests of Uga Valley, near the city of Inabe.
The Inabe region has historically been a pleasant detour for travellers heading to Kyoto from Tokyo, offering a sense of old Japan and an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Using the natural materials to hand, Danish architects Third Nature have worked with local engineers and sustainability experts Henrik Innovation to deliver a new way of living and an innovative way for visitors to experience nature. The site, a full revamp of an old campsite, is set to open in spring 2021, just ahead of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics. You can bring your own tent, or book a stay in one of the circular cabins.
Observers have been quick to point out how the original designs for the permanent huts and cabins bear a striking resemblance to the aesthetic created by Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli in its blockbuster hit Princess Mononoke. The fantasy film, much like this project, had a strong focus on nature and environmental sustainability.
“We believe the future is about circularity. Our proposal is composed by a family of circles that define a series of sustainable communities. The master plan and buildings embody a unique environment and a regenerative ‘hygge’ experience in nature,” says Flemming Rafn Thomsen, the lead architect and co-founder of Third Nature.
Danish outdoor specialists Nordisk are working with Inabe city council to complete the project, and are also keen on emphasising the sustainable element of Hygge Circles Ugakei.
“We believe that nature is a luxury that is free for all, and that spending time outside simply improves your life. We act according to this view in Japan and see the Japanese consumers agreeing with us to a very large extent,” says Erik J Møller, CEO and owner of Nordisk Company in Denmark.
He adds that this is a “concept consisting of sustainable Danish design in the middle of the remarkable Japanese nature [and] wooden circular buildings, outdoor activities, ‘hygge’ and with an intimate closeness to the moon and stars above”.
The campsite celebrates a newfound love of hygge in Japan, but there’s also plenty more in store for fans of anime, too. A new theme park based around the work of Studio Ghibli is under construction and is expected to open in 2022.