One of Kyoto’s most popular attractions is the Arashiyama bamboo grove. Covering nearly 10 square miles, this lush forest is known for its rows of towering bamboo stalks that flank a 1,600-foot path. Nearly 80 feet tall, the stalks sway side to side in the wind, allowing scant sunlight to filter through to the path in a dance of light and shadow. The forest also has a distinct aural quality, and Japan’s Ministry of Environment included the site in its list of “100 Soundscapes of Japan,” noises intended to encourage people to stop and enjoy nature’s sounds. Visitors often describe the feeling of being in Arashiyama as “otherworldly” and “dreamlike.”
This unique example of natural splendor is the source of inspiration for Grand Seiko’s Sōkō collection.
In 2019, Grand Seiko unveiled the highly popular Japan Seasons collection, which debuted with four watches, each representing one of Japan’s twenty-four sekki that mark nature’s ever-changing seasons. SBGA413 is Shunbun, a celebration of the vernal equinox that evokes the spirit of the fleeting sakura season. The days when spring passes over to summer is captured in SBGH271, otherwise known as Rikka. SBGH273, or Shubun, honors the autumnal equinox, and specifically the moment when day equals night. And SBGA415, or Taisetsu, represents winter’s heavy snow as it gathers and shines against the sunlight.
In 2020, Grand Seiko expanded the collection with two special edition timepieces exclusive to the United States named after one of the twenty-four sekki known in Japan as sōkō.
Sōkō, defined as “frost descends,” marks the end of autumn, specifically when the first frost embraces the forest. The forest in question here is Arashiyama, and the two timepieces, SBGA427 and SBGA429, celebrate sōkō while also pulling inspiration from the famed bamboo grove.
Both dials feature a vertical grained pattern and splashes of green, evoking the many shades of green found among the bamboo stalks. Furthermore, the aforementioned play of light and shadow is captured in the two dials: with its silver dial SBGA427 represents “light,” and with its gray dial SBGA429 represents “shadow.”
While the first four models of the Japan Seasons collection feature a case inspired by the historical 62GS, Sōkō unveils a 39mm version of a case design that espouses the contemporary Grand Seiko Style, a design language introduced by longtime Grand Seiko designer Nobuhiro Kosugi back in 1998. This foundational design has carried through to the present, inspiring designer Kioyotaka Sakai when creating both sōkō designs. (If you recall, Mr. Sakai is also the designer behind last year’s SLGH002 and SLGH003 models).
The dials on both references are highly dynamic. Depending on the light, the tone and texture of the dials can change dramatically, hiding or emphasizing the vertical striations. Grand Seiko is no stranger to intricate dial designs, and both Sōkōs do not disappoint.
The case features an elegant blend of hairline and Zaratsu-polished surfaces, and a sapphire case back allows for a full view of the Spring Drive caliber 9R65 within. Produced at the Shinshu Watch Studio in Nagano, Spring Drive is a proprietary movement that combines a mainspring with an electro-magnetic regulator that functions without an external power source. It delivers a precision of one second a day, and has a second hand the advances in a smooth, gliding motion, a feature unique to Spring Drive.
The watches come fitted on a stainless steel bracelet with a three-fold clasp and push-button release. Additionally, they also come with a crocodile leather strap with contrast green stitching (the color of the thread matching the seconds hand of each model). The strap is fitted with a three-fold push-button clasp. At $5,000 with both the stainless streel bracelet and leather strap with a deployant clasp, the two Sōkōs offer an exceptional value.