Lines on the Shore: Olive Bay Hotel on Oshima Island, Japan

In our series of articles about the islands in the Nagasaki Prefecture, this article looks at a recent example of contemporary architecture on Oshima Island (Ōshima), Saikai City district, Japan. The Olive Bay Hotel with architectural design by Kengo Kuma blends the remote and tranquil island environments of the region’s volcanic coast and the industrial context, with a luxurious retreat atmosphere.

For other articles in the Nagasaki Prefecture Islands series, check out the overview page (Coming Soon).

The Olive Bay Hotel (オリーブベイホテル) opened in 2014 and was built by the Oshima Shipbuilding Company. It is situated in close proximity to the industrial hub of the Oshima shipyard, and makes use of the beautiful location of Olive Bay, its volcanic rocky shores, clear blue ocean waters, and woodland background. The architectural design for this small luxury hotel was by Kengo Kuma & Associates, Tokyo, and reflects Kengo Kuma’s (隈 研吾, born 1954) reinterpretation of traditional Japanese building methods and materials for his 21st century designs. Kuma has projects around world and is currently engaged in the design of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium.

In Kuma’s writings on Anti-Object: The Dissolution and Disintegration of Architecture (2008), he argues for a respect of architecture for its surroundings, in other words, an architecture of relations that avoids dominating its settings.

How successful the implementation of this design philosophy is in the case of Olive Bay Hotel remains open for discussion. Some may say that the architectural volume of the hotel is actually a dominating volume over the small bay, while others may argue that the relationship between the hotel and bay enforces the characteristics and distinctive features of the site and architecture.

Olive Bay Hotel certainly creates – in close proximity of the shipyard’s industrial activity – an overarching feeling of tranquility of place. The orientation of the guest rooms towards the bay, with views over the clear water and to mount Shimadake (島岳) have a contemplative effect.

There is a strong dialogue that occurs between Olive Bay Hotel’s function rooms or 32 guest rooms, and the immediate settings. The interior spaces command a strong connectivity with the exteriors through a high level of transparency, uses of vistas, and balconies on the bay side of the hotel. Connecting spaces is a recurring theme in Kuma’s design, especially between the inside and outside, and is clearly at work here.

The extensive use of glass at the bay side pulls the sea and nature into the building, and the attention and mind of the guest drift to the outside. Kuma describes transparency as an important characteristic of Japanese architecture, and he makes use this at the bay side of the hotel.

The front side of the hotel is a more closed volume, with the entrance and lobby being the accent with the vista effect and transparency. The entrance allows for a view under and through the building to the bay, given the visitor at arrival an immediate sublime experience.

In the hotel the stainless steel widow details allow for mirroring effects that together with the glass contribute to the play of light and colour. From within the hotel walls dissolve into nature, and encourage guests to explore and connect with the natural setting. An inviting trail to explore is the public promenade along the bay which offers a short walking route, that also is popular with locals.

The materiality and composition of the exterior creates a strong geometrical language. The linear theme evokes echoes of traditional Japanese architecture and creates contrast with Oshima Island’s curving mountains and rocky shores. The undulated roof and base of the buildings echo the soft curves of the mountain sides. The view across the bay from the promenade, back to the hotel, shows the effect of the roofline detail.

The hotel interiors were designed by GA Design International and was shortlisted for the 2014 International Hotel & Property Awards. The designs of the function rooms and guest rooms, and integrated art pieces, are stunning. The interior design reflects the client’s desire – the Oshima Shipbuilding Company – to provide a prestigious hotel experience for the formal occasions of the handing-over of the completed freight ships. In 2016 the Oshima Shipbuilding Company, with over 3,000 workers, built about 48 large freighters. This made them apparently the largest manufacturer of such vessels in the world.

The handing-over signifies the official purchase of the freighters, and requires a formal business setting. For these events the hotel includes a prestigious boardroom that also overlooks the bay. The splendid artwork and furnishings in the hotel contribute towards an impression of distinctiveness and luxury, while being calming and inspiring.

The hotel set-up caters for these these grand business occasions, while offering a retreat experience to wider audiences. A state of the art culinary experience is available in the restaurant, with views over the infinity pool and landscapes garden terrace. The hotel bar is again a tour de force of interior design with the walls decorated with artwork in Japanese paper.

The hotel’s architecture and interior design managed to connect to the natural qualities of the place and to create an atmosphere of tranquility and relaxation in this scenic and historical Japanese island location. A stay here gives the visitor a chance to encounter a fascinating island region, together with a taste of the art of Japanese architecture.

Oshima Island and Olive Bay Hotel at the Oshima Shipyard can be reached by road across a series of bridges, which takes around 90 minutes from Nagasaki city centre. It can also easily be reached via the same crossings from Fukuoka city. Bus and train options to Sasebi are also available from Nagasaki or Fukuoka. The more contemplative and scenic arrival experience is most certainly by high-speed ferry from Sasebo harbor via Sasebo Bay and to Oshima harbor.

Information on getting to the Oshima harbor and the Oshima Shipyard from Sasebo, Nagasaki, or Fukuoka can be found at the website of the Oshima Shipbuilding Company.

Text and photography by Jan Haenraets

 Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada, and a Professor in the Preservation Studies Program, at Boston University


With kind thanks to Nagasaki Prefecture Tourism Association and Ms. Yukiko Taniguchi, and Olive Bay Hotel.


Getting there:

Directions & transport options, Information by the Oshima Shipbuilding Co.Ltd.


Sources and information:

Olive Bay Hotel (オリーブベイホテル)

Kengo Kuma & Associates, Tokyo, Architecture

GA Design International Ltd, London, UK, Interior Design

Visit Nagasaki, The Official Guide to Nagasaki Prefecture

Nagasaki Travel Guide, Nagasaki City Official Tourism Information

Oshima Shipbuilding Co. Ltd.

Saikai City (西海市 Saikai-shi) (in Japanese)



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