Located in the popular Arashiyama district, on the banks of the Ōi River, Hoshinoya Kyoto is a tranquil luxury ryokan embodying the principles of omotenashi to perfection. In the 17th century, it was the riverside sanctuary of a wealthy merchant; today, the secluded resort offers respite to guests in just 25 exclusive rooms. With its rich cultural heritage and untainted natural surroundings, here are seven reasons why you’ll want to check into Hoshinoya Kyoto on your next visit to Japan.
#1 On the Oi
On the screen, images of the bamboo forests of Arashiyama conjure up peace and serenity, but if you’ve ever been there, you know that finding a quiet spot amongst the groves is like striking the lottery.
But as one leaves the dock and begins the approach to Hoshinoya in a wooden boat on the river Ōi, the frenetic energy and sounds of the surging crowds melt away. Wending upriver, gurgling river and birdsong fill the air instead, inducing a state of calm.
Our hosts greet us dockside, and we make our way uphill. Overhead, a lush 400-year-old Japanese maple sways, filtering sunlight; and underfoot, the intricate nobedan walkway is intricately laid with stones in varying heights and degrees, a beautiful ancient ‘anti-slip’ solution. We breathe in deep, and sigh it all out in release.
#2 Riverside repose
The rooms are spacious, light-filled and easy on the eye, echoing the earth-tones of the natural surroundings. Luxurious natural textures abound, from karakami papered walls to the shoji sliding doors and blond wood walls.
We revel in the crisp, pure cotton sheets and outdoor suits that we are encouraged to change into and wear freely anywhere on the resort. Our Tsukihashi Pavilion overlooks the river, and beside us is a stream, so the sound of running water is a constant—a feature which immediately soothes, putting us in a hypnotic state of mind.
The murmur and flow of the river becomes the music, a backdrop to all Hoshinoya activities. We walk uphill, taking delicate steps in our wooden Japanese slippers, marveling at the aesthetics. Every scene is picturesque, developed with so much detail, yet fitting in so naturally.
Through the library, then out to the open air deck—here we sit in awe of our surroundings, drinking green tea with aromatic notes of jasmine and hay. Around us, other guests do the same, absorbing the surroundings in stillness and near silence.
#4 Incense ceremony
Dating back to the 14th century, the traditional kōdō incense ceremony was practised by aristocrats, believed to help purify the mind, body and soul. Here, we are led through the preparation of the ash and scented wood, using fine metal tools and treated to the scents of the exalted agarwood, known as ‘wood of the Gods’ because of its beneficial properties and rarity. We learn monko, the art of ‘listening’ to the scent released, and ‘tasting’ it beyond our sense of smell. The journey is a contemplative and revelatory look into an ancient tradition, and we are grateful to have experienced this.
#5 Seasonal kaiseki
After sundown we make our way to the wooden restaurant for dinner, which is a kaiseki showcasing the very best of the Rankyo Gorge and Kyoto’s produce in the most breathtakingly detailed precision. Every nuance is taken into account, from the temperature of the water the fish was taken from, to the weather on the day it is served, and minute adjustments made to enhance each ingredient as it should be.
Course after course blows our minds, from the earthy mugwort topped with uni to the freshest spring peas with a soupcon of broth, to smoky grilled river eel in soy, and homemade tofu and rice rounded out with a selection of briny and sweet seaweeds. A flight of local wine and sake complements each course to perfection. When the meal is over we are still marvelling, in a daze of contentment, anointing it one of the best meals of our lives.
#6 Maple meditation
From a deep and peaceful slumber, we gently come awake to the sparrows chirping in the trees and the endless rushing of the Ōi. In our soft cotton navy suits, we silently greet other guests, and the day, as we sit on a plateau overlooking the river gorge, underneath the rustling 360-year-old maples. The Japanese maples are different to western maples, here the hazel leaves are smaller, more delicate in size and texture. Embraced by this gorgeous nature, we breathe deep and go through a series of stretches together, readying ourselves for the day.
#7 Breakfast shabu shabu
Back in our pavilion perched above the river, our tatami sitting room has been transformed. At its heart is a wooden table heaving with plates, and in the centre a copper vessel filled with kombu dashi is set to a steamy simmer.
A zephyr sweeps through the room as we take our seats on the mat and begin to dip and swish; fresh seasonal vegetables and mushrooms, alongside grilled Japanese salmon, chawanmushi, a series of pickles and a hot bowl of rice. It is a simple meal, but one that is infinitely satisfying, and we come away from Hoshinoya Kyoto completely rejuvenated, bellies and cups full.
Hoshinoya is one of six flagship properties owned by Hoshino Resorts, which began in Japan in 1904.
Address: 60 Arashiyama Nakaoshitacho, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-0004, Japan
Contact: +81 50-3134-8091
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