In Kyoto, Five Hotels to Add to Your Travel Wish List


In Kyoto, Five Hotels to Add to Your Travel Wish List

The pandemic lockdown in Japan coincided with a flurry of new hotels, especially in Kyoto, where the Park Hyatt, Aman and Four Seasons were joined by a group of independent properties and the first Ace hotel in the archipelago. When the country finally reopened to foreign visitors in October 2022, tourists came flooding back to the city of 800-year-old temples and bamboo forests spoiled for choice of accommodations, at a range of prices. The number continues to grow: Next month, the wellness-focused Six Senses brand will open its first Japanese outpost in the city’s Higashiyama district, home to many of the main tourist sites. Here, a look at five of Kyoto’s newer hotels that are redefining the city’s hospitality scene.

Andre Fu, the interior designer behind hotels like the Upper House in Hong Kong and Villa La Coste in Aix-en-Provence, France, has infused his signature aesthetic (extravagantly refined, with warm woods and luxurious textures) within the confines of a particularly historic area of Kyoto. The 161-room Mitsui, opened in late 2020, sits across from Nijo Castle, an enormous 17th-century compound and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s in stark contrast to the hotel, whose only timeworn element is an imposing entrance gate — a traditional wood structure over 300 years old and a remnant of the days when the Mitsui family lived on the grounds. Once past the gate, you’ll find a glass-and-steel building, designed by the Japanese architect Akira Kuryu, and landscaping that’s meant to echo the original garden pathways of the Mitsui residence, planted with cherry trees and steppingstones that meander above a glassy pond. The four food and drink venues include the French-Japanese Toki, overseen by the chef Tetsuya Asano (previously of the Ritz Paris), and the Garden Bar, strategically positioned to capture seasonal views, like the spring cherry blossoms and blazing autumnal foliage, out of massive double windows. Rooms from about $1,360 a night.

The youthful Ace hotel brand might seem like an odd fit in staid Kyoto. But this 213-room property, which opened in 2020, fits seamlessly into the city center thanks to a collaboration between the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and the California-based design firm Commune. Kuma, who designed the Japan National Stadium (the centerpiece of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics), renovated the imposing 1920s-era, red brick Kyoto Central Telephone Office, while adding an industrial-looking building — sheathed in copper sulfide plating, cedar, glass and concrete — next door. Commune infused the guest rooms with Ace’s signature mix of bright colors and patterns: original dyed prints from the Japanese folk artist Samuro Yunoki sit alongside Tivoli radios, turntables and vintage records. The most popular part of the hotel, though, might be the street-level branch of Stumptown Coffee Roasters — the first in Japan. From about $300 a night.

Like Kyoto’s dozens of temple gardens, this 10-room property offers an immediate sense of calm. Its entrance is so discreet, you could easily miss it. (Look for the flowing white cloth curtain with simple black signage, behind which is a garden path leading to a minimalist building made of wood, concrete and glass.) The hotel’s location informs the interior design: Thirty minutes west of central Kyoto, the Arashiyama district is defined by nature, with the Katsura River at its center, and filled with bamboo groves and surrounded by forested mountains. Guest rooms are simply furnished with beds, chairs and tables handmade by both Kyoto artisans and the Danish furniture maker Carl Hansen & Son, and each one has a soaking tub. Rooms from about $540 a night.

The Gion district epitomizes Kyoto for many visitors, with its maze of narrow alleys and ryokans, traditional Japanese inns. It’s here, on a quiet side street among artists’ studios, antique shops and galleries, that the Shinmonzen opened in December 2021. Although it’s a new build, the aim was for the hotel to blend in with the surrounding structures. To accomplish this, the famed Japanese architect Tadao Ando created a wooden facade that replicates a machiya, one of the venerable townhouses found throughout Kyoto. There are only nine guest rooms, but they’re unusually spacious, and all have balconies with views of the Shirakawa River. Each one is an ode to Japanese interior elements, furnished with tatami mats, shoji (panels lined with rice paper) and cypress soaking tubs. And for dining, the chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose restaurant empire spans the world, devised a menu blending French, American and Asian influences, sourcing much of the produce from local farms. Rooms from about $1,500 a night.

A three-suite hotel near the 16th-century Toyokuni Shrine, Maana Kiyomizu is the latest offering from Maana Homes, the small local hospitality group, which operates two other properties in the city. This one, opened in the winter of 2022, is located in Higashiyama, and is a complex of four machiya that also houses POJ Studio — a boutique that sells artisanal Japanese crafts and home goods. There’s also Kissa Kishin, the second branch of a popular Gion cafe, which serves coffee, matcha and pastries and acts as the unofficial social center for the property. The Japanese architects Uoya Shigenori and Takeshi Ikei renovated the suites to create a minimalist wabi-sabi ideal of city living, where handmade pottery from Shigaraki (a town famous for its ceramics) are the only decorative flourishes to be found. Rooms from about $560 a night.

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