I recently enjoyed my first trip to Japan and I just don’t know why I’ve left it so long – it is a beautiful country. I was there visiting my daughter, Nicky, who lives in Tokyo. I took the opportunity to visit two SLH properties, Hoshinoya Karuizawa and Hoshinoya Kyoto, both of which joined the brand this year.
During my visit I had the pleasure of meeting the President of Hoshino Resorts, Mr Hoshino, who is a fourth-generation hotelier. All of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World properties are independently owned and family-run so it is always a pleasure meeting the owners who are as passionate about hotels as I am. Mr Hoshino’s vision is about incorporating traditional Japanese hospitality and values with all the mod cons and comfort of contemporary hotels. He wants to bring the ryokan concept into the 21st century without losing any of the charm or traditions.
As you may know, ryokans in Japan are traditional inns which were originally built in the 17th century along the highways in Japan. Common features include straw-matted rooms, communal baths, hot springs or ‘onsen’, and futon beds. The Hoshinoya properties are built around this concept – but are ultra luxurious as you would expect.
Hoshinoya Karuizawa is only about one hour from Tokyo on the Shinkansen bullet train. The train system in Japan is one of the most efficient and cleanest I have ever experienced – and you get a great view of Mount Fuji on the way. Karuizawa is well-known as a summer holiday destination for discerning Japanese and is apparently favoured by local celebrities. It is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The property is located in the most tranquil setting along the Yukawa River in a valley surrounded by over 400 acres of forest and mountains, next to a wild bird sanctuary. Hoshino Resorts take their responsibility towards the environment very seriously and over 70 per cent of the energy needed for the guest rooms comes from renewable sources, including the under-floor heating.
Bathing in natural hot springs seems to be a way of life in Japan – it was interesting to learn more about this ritual. At Hoshinoya Karuizawa there are two natural hot springs, including a meditation bath. It is certainly very relaxing. I particularly like not having to dress for dinner as guests are free to wear the robes (yukatas) provided for the whole duration of their stay. After all, there is a Japanese proverb ‘Go ni itte wa go ni shitagae’ which means literally, ‘When in a village, do as the villagers do’. I think this is the equivalent of the English proverb ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’ which I subscribe to. The spa at Hoshinoya is based on the Zen concept of ‘Cho-shin, Cho-soku, Cho-shin’ which means the ‘adjustment of mind, breath and body’.
I was only in Karuizawa for a flying visit but next time I am definitely going to visit the Sake breweries nearby. I acquired a real taste for it during my trip.
A few days later I went to visit Hoshinoya Kyoto, which hadn’t opened yet so I was given a sneak preview. The hotel since opened its doors on the 12th of December. It is a century-old ryokan on the banks of the Ooigawa River which has been lovingly restored. It used to be the home of a wealthy Kyoto merchant and is in Kyoto’s historic Arashiyama district. The boat ride to Hoshinoya Kyoto is an experience in itself. Once guests have checked in they are treated to a ten-minute boat ride to the hotel – talk about making an entrance! I would love to go back to Kyoto during autumn or Cherry Blossom season.
We are delighted that our portfolio is growing in Japan as we can now offer you more choice and diversity. Having visited both properties I would say it is worth visiting Japan just to stay at the two Hoshinoya properties! They really are gems. Have any of you visited the hotels already? We would love to hear more about your experiences. Don’t hesitate to contact our reservations team if you need any more information or visit www.slh.com.