Given that we Santa Feans are challenged by lack of proximity to a major airport hub, it's comforting to know that a little piece of Japan is just up Artist Road. No passports, layovers, or jet-lag required-Ten Thousand Waves spa and resort is painstakingly true to Japanese design aesthetics, while also incorporating local elements throughout.
Before Duke Klauck was the owner and visionaire behind the Waves, he was a student of the Japanese language and a devotee of hot tub and hot springs culture. He bought the Waves property, formerly Rancho Elisa, in 1981. In order to raise the money to found the spa, he did a traditional remodel on the small casitas on the property and sold them as condos. Eventually, he bought them back and re-remodeled them in Japanese styles ranging from quietly elegant to playfully pop. Every year, Klauck spends two months in Japan, studying the language, touring the country, and collecting ideas on design, bathing, gardening, and therapeutic massage which he brings back and implements with the help of devoted staff like manager Michael Cornelius (tenure: 21 years) and landscape artist Sherie Land (20 years in April).
"Ten Thousand Waves is dedicated to providing a Japanese sense of serenity and relaxation," Duke explains. "Everything we do, from the gardens to the woodwork, from the therapies to the therapists, has been constantly and thoughtfully refined over the last twenty-five years. We offer a unique "Japanese-adobe' esthetic, combining the traditional with state-of-the-art technology."
The Yado lodging is traditionally Japanese, with sliding shoji screens and subdued tones, occasionally spiked with a bit of orange. The Sailor Moon, on the other hand, is an homage to the wildly popular Japanese animated character of the same name. The chartreuse, royal blue, red, gray, and white palette melds engagingly, and a daybed with a sparkling starfield ceiling, batch-pad remote controls for everything, a 30-inch flat screen TV, and a large slate-tiled 2-person shower make Sailor Moon the perfect honeymoon suite for hip newlyweds.
Emperor's Class lodgings like the Suigetsu and Crescent Moon offer amenities like enclosed courtyards, more square feet, and the feeling of staying in a home. My absolute favorite option, though, is the Silver Moon, which is a mint Airstream Bambi, kitschily decorated in a fun, fifties version of Japanese style, with bold bed linens and a lava lamp. Guests can stay in a spiffy, de-funkified Airstream trailer, just steps away from all of the hot tubs and treatments the spa has to offer-and it's the cheapest option, at $89-$99 per night.
Duke's design philosophy is firmly wedded to the significance of details. For instance, lodging beds' quilts are stuffed with silk, which gives warmth without bulk and weight. Thread count is almost as high as the altitude, and many of the lodgings' shower floors are embedded with smooth, beautiful pebbles. Ramas, traditional Japanese vents, depict painstakingly carved wooden arboreal scenes. Next time you're looking at a homely metal vent in your own home, think about what the Japanese did when faced with the same practical issue-made an art object of enduring, edifying beauty. Everywhere the eye alights, there is pleasure; a potted orchid, polished granite countertops, a framed photograph taken in Japan by Deborah Fleig, mellowly burnished poured concrete floors, fresh fruit, natural bamboo shades.
As we walk up the hill to the main lodge, Cornelius points out the interconnected trails, lit by low motion-sensor lights, that guests may traverse in the evenings without changing out of their kimonos. The property bends visitors to its rules, which adds to the sensation of being in another world entirely-the lovely audacity of such a long, steep path to the entrance is not for the faint of quadriceps.
"It's like a Japanese castle-there are seven or eight levels," Cornelius points out. "We've grown so much over the last 25 years, organically, so there's a lot of up and down spiral staircases, nooks and crannies, lots of surprises." Although he seems a little rueful that the main lodge is so byzantine, we agree that it imparts a priceless romantic quality.
The sound of running water is a given in most of the treatment rooms, common areas, and outside gardens as well. Many stone fountains are the source, from bamboo-spout-and-rock-basin functional sculptures from Stone Forest to a unique two-level waterfall made of stacked stone and bulbous, biomorphic coppery balls connected by slender metal tendrils, created by Rick Durin of Vines. The water beckons the visitor, leading him or her subconsciously to the sources-and we are especially susceptible to this call in the desert. Outside, fountains are connected by stone paths, wooden bridges, and stacked steps made out of single stones left in their natural shapes.
Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a Japanophile Brit who became a Japanese citizen, married a Japanese woman, and took the name Yakumo Koizumi, shared these insights on Japanese gardens: "In order to comprehend the beauty of a Japanese garden, it is necessary to understand - or at least to learn to understand - the beauty of stones. Not of stones quarried by the hand of man, but of stones shaped by nature only. Until you can feel, and keenly feel, that stones have character, that stones have tones and values, the whole artistic meaning of a Japanese garden cannot be revealed to you. Not only is every stone chosen with a view to its particular expressiveness of form, but every stone in the garden or about the premises has its separate and individual name, indicating its purpose or its decorative duty."
As I climb the stone steps to one of the Waves' pagodas, I experience the power of stones that are equally useful and beautiful. The charm of a treatment room that is also a Japanese cottage is not lost on me. Window views reveal the mountain tops that surround the property. Floors, walls, and ceilings are paneled in wood, and the effect is harmonious and soothing, as is the knowledge that there is nothing outside this "room" but air.
Walking on, Cornelius points out a traditional Japanese gate, featuring a crisscrossed panel at the top made of woven tamarisk, wooden branches indigenous to New Mexico. John Driscoll, one of the head carpenters at the Waves, and formerly a Buddhist monk, is responsible for this gate's design, as well as the many intricate and obscure wooden joints that thrill the observant eye. Such richness of visual interest is almost as therapeutic as one of the Waves' massage treatments.
Sherie Land, the Waves' landscape artist, is found both inside and outside the properties, tending to the gardens and plants that give the Waves its lush natural connection. "Duke has a library, so over the last two decades, I've sought inspiration there, and also worked with the photographs Duke has brought back from Japan." Some of the ideas they have implemented include wrapping pruned trees with bamboo or straw screening instead of plastic tree wrap, and planting sheep fescue, a bunchy grass that from a distance looks like little sheep grazing. In the spring, flowers are in bloom everywhere you look.
Exciting developments in the works at Ten Thousand Waves include two more pagodas, a quiet room, renovations, and a (!!) restaurant. The quiet room will fill the need that many guests notice: an indoor space to relax before, after, or in between activities. Reminiscent of a traditional teahouse and a meeting room found in Japanese inns, the floors will be covered in tatami mats, and windows will look out on a garden, a waterfall, and their koi pond. "So many times guests experience such a sense of release, especially with the Watsu treatments, that it's jarring just to make them re-enter the world right afterwards. The quiet room will give them a place to slowly adjust," Cornelius explains. Once a week, a Japanese film will be shown in the quiet room on a large screen.
The Imperial Ofuro private bath is being renovated at the moment, and design geeks will be happy to learn that the new entry and changing area will be, as Duke describes, "hyper-modern Japanese architecture," while the bathing area will still be very traditional. A new sauna, cooling room, and a great view of the valley will add to the bath's allure.
In 2008, Ten Thousand Waves will launch a Japanese-style izakaya restaurant. An izakaya, in Japan, is a casual neighborhood spot that serves food and drink. Thinking outside of the bento box, the restaurant will offer some of the fifteen cuisines of Japan that are unfamiliar to Americans, like yaki-niku and shabu-shabu, which both involve cooking your own food at your own table. The architecture and design of the restaurant hasn't been hashed out yet, but rest assured that it will be an extension of Ten Thousand Waves: deeply, authentically Japanese, with nods to Santa Fe design elements and raw materials.
It's impossible to visit Ten Thousand Waves without feeling like you've traveled halfway around the world. The lesson that one comes away with is that with the right sense of devotion, one part of the world can meet another harmoniously, yielding the best of both.
Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Health Spa is situated on Hyde Park Road about 4 miles from the plaza. Reservations for all services, 982-9304. For more information, www.tenthousandwaves.com