Seto House – 1952

This is a former large private house in the middle of the port which was given by the Seto family to the town of Wakkanai. It is free to visit and has many interesting displays and features which were demonstrated to us. 

Domestic architecture here is introspective with room views and their arrangements focusing inward. Even when looking onto the carefully manicured wildness of the house’s small garden the view was  framed and enclosed to protect against outside intrusion by walls topped with bamboo screens.

These painted sliding doors are so Rothko-esque I’ve had to check the dates of Rothko’s paintings to discover they are contemporaneous with the painter’s abstract work. Japan clearly discovered the power of visual abstraction long before the modern art movements of the West and this can be seen in the temple screen paintings of Kyoto. At Nishi-Honganji Temple there are wall screens showing bamboos, grasses and tigers which are more interested in exploring shape, form and colour than necessarily depicting their subject matter realistically. 

When looking at the painted sliding doors and the diminishing horizon lines in the house there is some irony that they choose to depict the expanse of the outer world from within a place which makes itself so separate from it. This might be explained by the house’s original owner being a fishing trawler man and the abstract painting speaking more of sea sunsets and a life beyond the house than those confined from within it. 

North Breakwater Dome

The Wakkanai tourist leaflet says:

An arch-shaped dome with 70 pillars built in 1932 to break the waves from the ocean. It is 427m long and 13.6m high. The dome looks like ancient Roman architecture and is unique in the world and designated a Hokkaido heritage structure. It is still the symbol of the port…

It is bitterly cold here and we’re glad not to be riding. The temperature is 7 deg C but with a gale blowing in from the north feels much colder. 


We’re about 140km from the very top of Japan pedalling up the west coast with the Sea of Japan to our left and a horizon leading to Russia. 

It is so beautifully bleak up here that the houses still remain ‘stockaded’ against inclement weather. The screen of timber slats is temporary to protect the dwelling behind from the colossal amounts of wind blown snow that comes in across the sea from Siberia.

It keeps getting cooler and increasingly windy the more we head north.


A great novel by the same author of ‘In Praise of Shadows’ that Ascinda kindly steered me to a few years ago. Both books are an architects’s dream of reimagining lost worlds of space and light in the buildings, traditions and customs of Japan.