The Hiranoya Tea House in Autumn, © Risa Sekiguchi, 2009

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Hoshinoya Kyoto

If you are looking for a romantic hideaway that combines the best of old and new Japan, and are prepared to spend good money for a brief time of unparalleled luxury, Hoshinoya Kyoto is just the place. It’s a relatively new (open December 2009) property that has been gaining increasing accolades worldwide. I don’t know how else to describe it, but staying there is like traveling a great distance and back in time and yet, having all the modern conveniences of today. It’s like a parallel universe where perfection really IS possible.

From the moment you step onto the Hoshinoya wooden motorboat at Kotogetsu-bashi (little Togetsu bridge), you know you are in for a different experience. The custom-designed wooden boat itself is tastefully constructed and embellished with Hoshinoya’s simple and elegant logo of a crescent moon and star. As the boat pulls always from the dock, a feeling of peace immediately sets in as you leave your cares and worldly connections behind. The lively noises of street traffic and crowds of happy tourists fade into the background as the boat slowly makes its way upriver, and the banks of the lively river show less and less signs of habitation. After only a few turns, the view of Arashiyama bridge disappears around the bend of a river and you are surrounded only by nature. In only 10 minutes, the elegant rooflines of a set of traditional Japanese sukiya-style buildings clinging to the left bank come into view. There, at a simple boat landing, are uniform-clad attendants ready to welcome you.

Tsukemono at Hoshinoya Kyoto
Above: Colorful tsukemono for breakfast. Left: Approaching the resort. Below: Breakfast is served in your room.
Breakfast at Hoshinoya Kyoto
Hoshinoya Kyoto Sukiya style buildings
Above: Sukiya-style buildings; Below: the modern garden
Japanese garden at Hoshinoya Kyoto

Address: Genrokuzancho 11-2, Arashiyama, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto City 616-0007
TEL. +81-75-871-0001
FAX. +81-75-871-0003
Hoshinoya Kyoto on the Arashiyama River

This is Hoshinoya Kyoto. The 16th-century buildings were once the library and summer home of Ryoji Suminokura, a wealthy merchant. One wonders what Suminokura would make of his villa’s transformation. No expense was spared during the careful restoration of this set of wooden buildings to its present magnificence. All of the best features were kept: The elegantly simple woodwork and the timber framing, the ancient and exquisitely trimmed trees, and the basic structure of what, from the outside, looks like a small village from 400 years past.

New buildings meld seamlessly with old, including a 2-storey building with additional guest rooms, a lobby with a comfortable lounge and library, and a 2-storey restaurant which is the ultimate place to dine. A large, shallow pool graces fronts a small sitting area in front of the lobby. Further up the sloping, granite-lined pathway is a modern garden that fits the resort’s spirit perfectly.

The rooms are reconfigured to suit today’s tastes for spaciousness and views of the outside, with modern, floor-to-ceiling shoji screens and sleek, modern, dark slate bathrooms. The soaking tubs are made of a type of wood, which we were told is even more valuable than precious hinoki (Japanese cypress). Instead of traditional futons set out on a tatami floor, raised bed-like platforms offer comfortable sleeping and ease for getting in and out of bed, while specially-designed sofas grace the tatami rooms for relaxing and, if desired, dining.

Which brings us to another of Hoshinoya’s highlights: The food. First of all, you must stay here to dine here, and from our point of view, you MUST dine here! We’ll post a review of a memorable dinner in an upcoming article.

Arriving by boat to Hoshinoya Kyoto Tsuki twin villa at Hoshinoya Kyoto
Tani tatami room at Hoshinoya Kyoto Ofuro at Hoshinoya Kyoto
Above, clockwise from top left: Arrive and depart by boat; The Tsuki twin villa is the most sought-after; One of the exquisite wooden ofuro; modern shoji design in the Tani tatami villa. Below: Breakast is served in your room; Learning Karakami; th Monko ceremony
Breakfast at Hoshinoya Kyoto
Learning monko, the incense ceremony at Hoshinoya Kyoto Karakami workshop at Hoshinoya Kyoto

While you can choose to stay at Hoshinoya without taking breakfast (as is the style of the modern ryokan Hoshinoya concept) it would be shame to miss it. It is a lavish affair, served right in your room in true ryokan style. Getting set up is quite a task for the food service staff, as they carry all the food, utensils and tableware in an ingenious carrying case that holds much more than you can imagine. During your stay, you breakfast will be thoughtfully varied. For our visit in Autumn, we had nabe on both mornings: Yudofu (hot tofu) on the first morning and vegetables with grated daikon the second. Served with this were grilled fish, yuba, and tsukemono (pickles) from one of the best shops in Kyoto.

The staff, whom we are told hail mostly from other parts of Japan, are beyond wonderful, and we became fast friends with several kindred spirits. Their professionalism is mixed with a deep love of Japanese culture and a sincere desire to share it with guests, and thus, a stay at Hoshinoya Kyoto is unlike a stay at a regular resort.

Last but not least, there is a menu of cultural activities that are hnot to be missed. We took three: Monko (incense ceremony), Karakami (woodblock printing) and our favorite: Zen meditation and tea ceremony at one of Daitokuji's temples by the head priest, a leader in the tea world. This was so moving that several of us were in tears during his talk. I believe that at that moment, we were all resolved to change our lives and become more mindful, and I recall his words and example often during my busy modern life. I never expected such an experience as a result of staying at a luxury inn, but life often has a way of surprising you.

Read about Hoshinoya Karuizawa and Yoshiharu Hoshino, president of Hoshino Resorts Co.

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