Japan’s knack for marrying the traditional with the tacky is in full view at Kaneyama-en (鐘山苑), an onsen (hot spring) hotel at the foot of Mr Fuji, near Lake Yamanaka.
A massive, concrete hotel of the kind favoured by locals looking to hold a flashy wedding party – there is a church adjacent to the hotel – or out-of-towners who want to bring the whole family along for a special anniversary, complete with karaoke, Kameyama-en is clearly beloved by many, judging from the crowds that kept pouring into the lobby during our visit.
Its location, which offers a decent view of Japan’s most famous mountain, is an attraction, as is the massive 20,000 tsubo Japanese garden (1 tsubo is 3.3 square meters), with a river running through it.
There are waterfalls that call to mind scenes from an ancient ink painting and tea rooms, where guests can relax and contemplate the meaning of life, or simply doze off in the afternoon sun.
Unfortunately, Kaneyama-en doesn’t have much else going for it.
The outside rotenburo baths do allow bathers to see Mr Fuji, but only if you are standing, rather than soaking in the tub. The food is the kind of fare served at mammoth hotels where dinner starts at 6 PM sharp whether the diners are there or not.
When we visited for a lunch and onsen stay one afternoon, we were disappointed by a first course which would have been much better had it been warm, unremarkable sashimi and an adzuki (sweet bean) dessert, which was tasty but marred by being adorned with two pieces of canned and syrupy mikan (tangerine).
But there is one good reason to visit Kameyama-en, apart from the garden, and that is to experience the kitsch, amusement park interior of the place, where traditional Japanese style exists side by side with all manner of ornamentation, from flowery art deco to teeny-bopper cute (or “kawaii” as many fans of the genre would say) and just plain ugly.
In addition to being a hotel where guests can stay overnight, Kameyama-en, like many Japanese hotels, serves as a venue for wedding receptions, family get-togethers, company outings and other large gatherings. To accommodate these groups, the hotel has created a whole area made up of separate Japanese style rooms clustered together to look almost like a traditional town.
Throughout the massive hotel, staff who belong to a flower arrangement club have placed their creations, many of which are stunningly beautiful.
The lobby is dominated by a line-up of huge Japanese taiko drums, kept for performances by members of the hotel’s taiko club.
The garden, which boasts cherry trees, azaleas, hydrangeas and an assortment of deciduous trees that put on flaming colours in the autumn, is perfectly maintained.
So, if it weren’t for the other, jolting touches – the gaudy carpet featuring Disney-like illustrations, the stained glass ceiling in one corner of the hotel, the wrought-iron gate leading to the church next door, the circular staircase in the hall on the way to the baths – Kameyama-en might even pass for a high-end Japanese ryokan.
If a mediocre meal is not going to put you off, Kaneyama-en is worth a visit for a view of the lovely garden or even just to see the hodgepodge interior design that makes the place so curiously kitsch.