Your hotel in Tokyo should feature the finest in Japanese minimalist design aesthetic with stunning views of the skyline or perhaps the palace, but in Kyoto, Hakone, and more remote places, and certainly on you honeymoon, consider the quintessential Japanese experience—ryokan (inn)— or even a monastery in Mount Kōya. Below is a brief selection of places we often recommend for our Japan travelers, including the Aman's new "urban sanctuary" in Tokyo.
Of course, we have definite opinions for where to stay with children, couples, for privacy, outdoor sightseeng, and other preferences. For example, if you can resist the sumptuous settings of the Aman or Peninsula in Tokyo and the arts or shopping are priorities during your time in Tokyo, then we suggest Rippongi, located in the heart of the action.
In more remote locations, Japan offers Zen inspired retreats that combine sublime natural locations and architecture like no other properties in the world, such as Tadao Ando's masterpiece Setouchi Aonagi on Shikoku, or Benesse House on Naoshima "art island," a combination hotel and world-class museum in one.
Experience one of the finest hotels in the world, a sublime zen-temple paradise situated high in the sky of central Tokyo with views all the way to Mount Fuji at the Tokyo Aman Urban Sanctuary.
Although we typically recommend the Peninsula in Hong Kong and Bangkok for families as a more convenient and family-friendly option, their Tokyo property is a top choice simply for style and location. The 300-plus room hotel lies opposite the Imperial Palace and a brief stroll from the neon kaleidoscope of lights of the Ginza shopping district at the crossroads of Harumi Dori and Naka Dori, directly opposite the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park.
Renowned interior designer Yukio Hashimoto has blended traditional Japanese and contemporary styles in rooms of cherry wood, red and black lacquer and the fine silks to compliment the fine views (above). Restaurant options include Hei Fung Terrace for Cantonese in a pleasant garden setting, and rooftop Peter for international dishes and dramatic city views. Amenities include the very lavish ESPA spa, modern fitness center, and 66-foot indoor pool.
As with their Bangkok and Hong Kong, the Peninsula Tokyo offers a dramatic helicopter transfer from the airport to their rooftop heliport and rooms that feature the most high-tech systems of any hotel in the world.
Tokyo's most interesting new addition and a unique one for Aman. Opening its doors in 2015, the property is Aman's first "urban sanctuary." Situated on the top six floors of the 38-story Otemachi Tower, the Aman enjoys a prime location near the Imperial Palace Gardens with superlative city views.
Unlike its more rustic and rural resorts, the urban sanctuary echoes the city's modernity but noted Aussie firm Kerry Hill Architects, who's work includes the Singapore Tower, designed the Aman interiors in a traditional austere Japanese style featuring locally-sourced materials including timber, washi paper, fabrics, and stone, which are employed throughout and blended with high-tech devices. The hotel's inner area also features a pair of traditional rock gardens.
The 84 rooms are spacious, measuring from the deluxe category at 71 square meters (765 square feet), which represents the largest entry-level rooms in the city. Premier rooms have a view towards the Tokyo Skytree, Japan's tallest tower, and suites feature a spacious open living room with a pantry, measuring in at 141 sq. meters (1,517 sq. feet). Every room features large traditional Japanese soaking tubs.
Travelers should note Aman stands out for its extensive health and well being infrastructure—covering about 10% of the property (over 2,500 square meters)—including a magnificent spa and a 30-meter swimming pool. With beautiful views over the city, the spacious, light-filled gym is equipped with the latest in cardiovascular and weight sets. A yoga and Pilates studio offers Allegro reformers and other Pilates-specific equipment. The 100 foot (30-meter) indoor swimming pool, which stretches across the skyscape, is temperature-controlled, and changing rooms feature steam rooms and traditional Japanese hot baths. The Aman also houses a cigar lounge, library, and several sumptuous dining venues.
Tokyo is home to more Michelin-star restaurants than any other city in the world, but Aman is ambitiously seeking to achieve fine dining on par in its new Tokyo property, with Mediterranean, Japanese, and Asian dining options, including private dining rooms, complimented by an extensive wine cellar. Located in the main reception area and featuring floor-to-ceiling views of the Imperial Palace Gardens and Mount Fuji in the distance, The Lounge by Aman is perfect for a drink or snack throughout the day and into the night. where you can relax in comfort while enjoying afternoon tea with traditional Japanese delicacies. In the evenings, the bar's mixologists pour from an extensive cocktail menu, bringing the action table side at the large communal bar table.
As is its custom, Aman's Tokyo property continues the firms unique focus on privacy, exclusivity, serenity, and impeccable personal service. After Tokyo, Aman has stated plans for future Aman city retreats in New York, London, Paris and Singapore.
Another new luxury property, opening its doors in the summer of 2014, it is the first Andaz-branded Hyatt hotel located in Japan. Andaz occupies the top five floors of the 52-story Toranomon Hills tower, located between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Tower in Toranomon, the historic central area of Tokyo—or the "Tiger Gate," which was one of the gates to Edo castle (now the Imperial Palace) where shoguns resided from the 17th to 19th centuries. The location provides easy access to nearby Ginza, Marunouchi, and Akasaka. As the trend with most new properties in Tokyo, the interior design is a modern take on the Japanese traditional emphasis of simplicity yet sophistication, beauty and purity of form. Local, natural materials such as washi paper and Hokkaido walnut feature throughout the hotel.
Traditional fittings reflect the Japanese penchant for authenticity of material and textures, such as shoji paper screens, have been transformed into modern partitions that create harmonious spatial sequences without physical barriers.
In a dramatic setting on the 51 floor next to Andaz Lounge is the main dining venue, Andaz Tavern, with five-meter floor-to-ceiling windows offering stunning views of the city. Striking wood sculptures by UK artist Charlie Whinney hang from the ceiling, punctuating this stylish contemporary space. The Andaz Tavern, which can seat two hundred, features a dining area, as well as a cozy lounge and bar. The menu serves refined European provincial cuisine cooked with Japanese produce.
The Rooftop Bar overlooking the city features a Japanese tea counter inspired bar, a lounge, and a cocktail bar featuring green tea and seasonal fruit cocktails, and fine sakes.
No stay in Japan is complete without lodging in a traditional ryokan, a type of traditional Japanese inn dating from the Edo period (1603-1868) that served journeying travelers along Japan's highways. Ryokan feature tatami-matted rooms, communal baths called onsen, manicured gardens, and public areas where guests may wear casual robes called yukata. Ryokan are usually situated in picturesque rural settings.
Almost all ryokan feature common bathing areas or ofuro, usually segregated by sex, using the water from nearby hot springs. By tradition, ryokan provide dinner and breakfast, consisting of traditional Japanese cuisine known as kaiseki, which features seasonal and regional specialties served in a number of small, varied dishes. Below are a selection of several of the finest ryokan in Japan as well as Western luxury hotels as alternative options.
A superlative ryokan (inn) experience. The property was once an imperial summer retreat, that now gracefully blends Japanese tradition and Western modernity. Upon arrival, a dramatic Zen rock garden entrance leads to a glass-enclosed lobby. The inn features 37 authentic tatami-style accommodations a sublime "Kadan" suite features a private garden and outdoor bath.
The public bath has a rectangular tub looking onto a pool lined with smooth stones, amid a grove of pine and bamboo. Superb multi-course kaiseki meals of seasonal ingredients are served in the restaurant or in the privacy of your room.
The principal amenity is the spa, with an indoor heated swimming pool, whirlpool, steam room, hot-spring mineral baths and an outdoor thermal bath in a rock grotto. A golf course is a short distance. Only 56 miles from Tokyo, the the ryokan is still best traveled to by train (the Gôra station is just a short distance away).
If you're foregoing the more touristy Hakone, perhaps during the months when Mount Fuji is obscured by cloud cover (especially in June and July), the Asaba Ryokan is an easy stopover en route to Kyoto and the perfect respite after frenetic Tokyo. Asaba is located in Shuzenji, a peaceful hot springs village on the Izu Peninsula where the ryokan opened its doors in 1675 to weary travelers along the main highway. Situated next to a bamboo forest,a mile and half Japanese garden, and picturesque pond, the setting is from a postcard.
Hundreds of years later, the same family operates the ryokan and have preserved it's traditional architecture and cultural traditions, including the staging of Noh dramas on the pond each evening. Deep tradition extends to the highly regarded kaiseki cuisine featuring fresh local Izu seafood and vegetables prepared by the same chef for over 30 years.
Aman's second foray into Japan, the newly opened Amanemu, is situated on a remote tip of the Osaki Peninsula overlooking tranquil Ago Bay where cultured pearls are raised. Suites of elegant simplicity flow onto spacious terraces with fine views of the pearl rafts floating on the calm bay. Each suite has its own private onsen facilities, while the Aman Spa offers two expansive onsen bathing pavilions as well as a watsu pool, four treatment suites, a gym and yoga studio. , not to mention the acclaimed Matsusaka variety of Japanese Wagyu. The resort's restaurant, serving Japanese cuisine, celebrates the area's gourmet heritage of Miketsukuni (land of Imperial provisions), as it was once known as the breadbasket of the ancient Imperial Court and features fresh local seafood.
Centered on Japan's centuries-old onsen tradition, the 2,000-square-meter Aman Spa embraces the theme of water. Designed around a large onsen and its natural mineral-rich waters, the Spa also features two private onsen pavilions, a watsu pool, treatment suites and gym. Two large onsen bathing pavilions are complemented by a watsu pool, four treatment suites, a gym and a yoga studio
In addition to nearby facilities that include an 18-hole championship golf course, there are two exceptional cultural sites: UNESCO-protected pilgrimage routes of Kumano Kodo, and Ise-Jingu, Japan's most sacred Shinto shrine.
Benesse House on the islands of Naoshima is consists of several building that are part of a broader project "Benesse Art Site Naoshima" whose mission " is to create signicant spaces by bringing contemporary art and architecture in resonance with the pristine nature of the Seto Inland Sea, a landscape with a rich cultural and historical fabric." The four buildings: the Museum, Oval, Park and Beach, all designed by star architect Ando Tadao. Each building features its own unique artwork and guest rooms. Our favorite, Oval, is situated on a hill and connected to the Museum building by a monorail. Oval offers spacious, luxurious lodgings in a mere six rooms. Large floor-to-ceiling windows in the guest rooms offer expansive views of the Inland Sea and does the large terrace.
The suites each feature a mural, painted by Richard Long and David Tremlett, from when they visited Naoshima. If you're visiting the austere "art island" with us, we can arrange a private tour of the resident museum and daytrip to Teshima island.
Kyoto's newest, and along with the Hoshinyo, the town's most secluded. Nature dominates at the newest Aman Kyoto – Aman’s third property in Japan after Tokyo and the hot spring retreat Amanemu. Aman Kyoto is situated in an lush remote garden, surrounded by acres of dense forest, featuring scattered austere pavilions amongst the trees. Large open spaces are spread within and outside, and there is a tranquil spa with hot spring onsen and a pair of high-quality restaurants serve up home-cooked Kyoto-style cuisine and Western dishes, as well as afternoon tea with sweet wagashi (confections).
The interiors were created by Peter Remedios, who also worked on the Kyoto Ritz, and Spin Studios drawing from the traditions of Japan, featuring elements by local artisans. Sublime Zen rock gardens, fountains, and a four-story waterfall create peaceful settings in the resort's center.
Our favorite, the Washigamine Pavilion, is a two-bedroom space situated at the highest, most secluded point of the property, with extensive views over the surrounding landscape.
The newly-opened Starwood Luxury Collection ryokan-inspired property Suiran is situated on a tranquil bend of the Hozu River within the grounds of the sublime UNSECO World Heritage Tenryu-ji Temple grounds (one of the 17 UNESCO heritage sites in Kyoto). Located in the hilly and verdant Arashiyama district of Western Kyoto, Suiran was rebuilt from the ryokan Rantei, a Japanese government VIP accommodation. In addition to the newly-constructed guest rooms and facilities, Suiran retained elements of its prestigious past, including the preservation of two original structures, Enmei-kaku and Hasshoken, which have been renovated and converted into a restaurant and a café.
With only 39 rooms Suiran offers a more intimate stay in Kyoto. We say "ryokan-inspired" as Suiran is a blend of Western and traditional Japanese amenities, such as more foreigner-friendly beds, not futons on a tatami mat. Most guest rooms have wonderful views of the forested hills that change colors with the seasons. The grounds are spacious and tranquil with a traditional rock garden. The hotel also offers a private spa service, including in-room treatments and two treatment rooms with Japanese-style open-air baths.
At one time, the most renowned and exclusive accomodation in all of Japan. Run by the same family for over 300 years, it's reputation remains unequaled. However, the Tawaraya is no longer the only game in town after the building of several other luxury ryokan and hotels in Kyoto over the last decade.
Unlike typical ryokans situated in nature areas, the Tawaraya is located on a small street in the middle of the city or what is known as an "urban ryokan", yet with only 18 rooms it is possible to have a sense of solitude. Priceless art and antiques decorate the rooms and halls, and the state of the building is impeccable featuring rarified quality.
In the style of traditional Japanese homes with 21st-century architecture, this sublime 25-room ryokan sits high on the banks above the dreamy Hozugawa River, transporting you back in time. Located in the Arashiyama district, an area abundant with temples, the hotel is reached only by a slow cruise in a hinoki, a traditional cedar boat. The rooms are richly finished in cedar, hand-blocked wallpaper, modern floor-to-ceiling glass shoji screens and chic dark slate bathrooms, with wide picture windows, and lofty duvets, not tatami mats, to relax on. All guest rooms feature views of the tranquil river surrounded by a tree-covered landscape that changes with the seasons.
The rooms are richly finished in cedar, hand-blocked wallpaper, modern floor-to-ceiling glass shoji screens and chic dark slate bathrooms, with wide picture windows, and lofty duvets, not tatami mats, to relax on. All guest rooms feature views of the tranquil river surrounded by a tree-covered landscape that changes with the seasons.
From the iron lanterns that light the moss-traced stone walkways to the lashed bamboo fences, every detail has been well considered. The hotels lounge area, a library, is restocked throughout the day with snacks by the attentive staff who speak excellent English. After a day exploring Arashiyama, they rooms heated wooden floors and deep cedar soaking tubs provide comfort and vantage point to take in views of lush green gardens and mountains.
As in a traditional ryokan, Hoshinoya is a retreat not only from busy Kyoto but from modernity. Elegant restaurant serving authentic Kyoto cuisine with a modern take. In the evening, after you've eaten an excellent Japanese kaiseki or French meal and changed into provided silk robes, relax in the Zen rock garden and watch the river flow by. In the morning, observe the foxes, deer, and even monkeys pass through the forest. Arashiyama is renowned for its temples which are well worth visiting. During your stay, experience morning worship rituals and meditation techniques from Zen monks on a temple visit, take a class in Japanese flower arranging and during summer, or go onto the river in the evening to watch 'ukai' or men fishing with the aid of cormorants, by firelight.
The Seven Stars is the first luxury sleeper train or "cruise train" in Japan, making its inaugural run in Oct 2013. The result of a collaboration between Japanese designer Eiji Mitooka and local artisans is a majestically furnished train featuring their masterpieces.
Seven Stars is decorated with a variety of woods and fabrics in a style that is a fusion of Western and Japanese design. There is a bar in the lounge car, as well as couches and rotating chairs for passengers to sit in while enjoying live musical performances. The rear of the lounge car also features a large bay window for enjoying the scenery as it flows by. The spacious rooms include the Deluxe Suites, where one carriage is split into two rooms, and the suite rooms, which are one carriage split into three rooms. This train provides a totally new travel experience.
Making its run through verdant island Kyushu, the train offers journeys of two and four days, as well as special annual departures. On the Seven Stars, passengers can enjoy the beautiful Kyushu scenery as it passes by. At certain points passengers will alight from the train to participate in excursions, with scenery and experiences that could only possibly be encountered on the Seven Stars. Note: Very limited cabins are available by advanced reservations only.
A stunning newer space providing the first real luxury property on remote, mountainous Shikoku Island (Japan's least developed region) designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando. Originally a private home, the mountain top property was converted into a modern art museum before recently re-opening as the Setouchi Retreat Aonagi. Ando captures the Japanese stark aesthtic and a strong contribution to recent concept of "minimal luxury" at high-end hotels, such as the Aman. Setouchi Aonagi's minimalistic design features massive polished walls of exposed concrete, bright plain surfaces, occasional contemporary art, huge floor-to-ceiling windows, and straight lines throughout the space.
The seven-suite hotel features blonde-wood furniture, spacious balconies, state-of-the-art room technology, capturing a serene, minimalist mood with the Aonagi maisonette suite and its 25 foot high ceiling, offering spectacular views of the Setouchi Inland Sea. Other bold features include an outdoor lap pool with views over the sea, and the restaurant, Minagi, serves meticulously-prepared but casual kaiseki dinners with local seafood.
Finished in 2014, the Ritz was the city’s first truly international luxury hotel to open in decades and Japan’s first "urban resort." The 134-room Ritz is dramtically situated on the banks of the Kamogawa River in Nijho Ohashi, close to Kyoto’s downtown areas including Gion and Kawaramachi-dori, the city’s central retail and entertainment districts, including Teramashi shopping area, Gion, and the Imperial Palace.
The elegance and service of The Ritz-Carlton name is present while honoring the cultural heritage of the city in the hotel's design. The hotel’s rooms and suites, the largest in Kyoto, offer full views of the river and the Higashiyama Mountains. Architects and designers have retained the character and aesthetic of a traditional Meiji house and courtyard into the architectural structure of the building. The interiors created by Peter Remedios and Spin Studios pay homage to the traditions of Japan, with patterned motifs created by local artisans and the incorporation of Zen rock gardens and water features, including a four-storey waterfall are aesthetically positioned in the heart of the hotel. The property features a world-class spa and five fine-dining experiences.
The Kamogawa Suite and its sister suites with their moon deck gardens (tsukimidai) and floor to ceiling windows offer luxurious accommodations with enviable panoramic views of the river and mountains, forming an unrivalled sanctuary of luxury refinement and service.
Our take: Sleek and stylish with bright and sunny rooms overlooking the river and mountains in the distance. Public spaces tend to darker and forbodding, resembling more a massive mausoleum than luxury hotel. Central location is ideal for strolling the river, shops and malls, or a monring jog along the river trails. We suggest considering splitting your stay in Kyoto between the Ritz and a ryokan if staying for more than one or two nights in Kyoto.
The Four Seasons Kyoto features a standout location in Kyoto, situated right within in the historic Higashiyama district, but with a with a tranquil and sublime setting upon a centuries-old garden and pond.
The modern, yet traditional rooms at the Four Seasons are crafted with dark hardwood floors and hand-painted wooden panels with fusama screens of bright shades of pale blue and imperial purple. Spacious bathrooms are dominated by inviting large soaking tubs. A number of signature suite rooms also have balconies and beautiful views of the gardens. Let us match you to the best room.
It's the location that's key here, with the Kamo River only a couple of blocks away, the Kyoto National Museum, a short stroll, and a pair of less popular temples nearby and other highlights of the area, including Gion, are also not far.