Hoshinoya: Top Boutique Hotels in Design-Obsessed Japan

View of Fujiyama Mt. Fuji Japan

Hoshino Resorts 

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Visitors to Japan have a range of hotel brands to choose from. Hoshino Resorts, founded in Japan in 1904, is a Japanese-owned company that provide a profoundly Japanese experience.

The most upscale hotel label from Hoshino is HOSHINOYA Resorts. Its six hotels — five in Japan and one on Bali in Indonesia — are individual in style and feeling, yet they all embody a commitment to their local culture and to contemporary design. These resorts are private-feeling boutique hotels that invite guests to immerse themselves in their one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Here's a look at all six of the HOSHINOYA Resorts.

01 of 06

HOSHINOYA Tokyo in Japan's Capital

HOSHINOYA resort in Tokyo resembles a country ryokan
©Hoshino Resorts

HOSHINOYA Tokyo is set in Tokyo's most ancient district, Otemachi, near the Imperial Palace of the Japanese emperor. Befitting its historic setting, the hotel celebrates Japan's classic lodging style: the ryokan inn.

Many visitors to Japan have their hearts set on a ryokan experience. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese country inn where guests lodge in simple rooms furnished with tatami mat floors and futon mattresses. Ryokans are in sync with nature and are famous for their hot spring baths and seasonal cuisine. Ryokans are mainly a rural phenomenon, situated in the mountains and by the sea. They are hard to find in large cities — but now Tokyo has a ryokan, by HOSHINOYA.

At HOSHINOYA Tokyo, guests can experience the true Japan without leaving Tokyo. Though it's set in a modern tower of 17 floors, the 84-room hotel manages to feel private and rustic. Each floor is a private enclave much like a ryokan. Each mini-ryokan is accessible only to guests staying on that floor, and offers a dedicated staff committed to the Japanese ideals of hospitality service. Rooms are spare, elegant, and meditative, with deep soaking tubs that honor the classic ryokan. The floor's lounge room, rich in rustic wood, serves as the mini-ryokan's social heart. Throughout the day and evening, the lounge serves various Japanese teas, coffees, and snacks that celebrate the seasons and nature's bounty, just like in a pastoral ryokan.

A rooftop pool with private nooks is open to the sky. A recently discovered hot spring that flows directly beneath the hotel warms a set of baths, just like in a ryokan. The hotel has a spa offering a variety of Japanese treatments and ingredients. The hotel's restaurants are ryokan-style, with seasonal dishes, and also French-Japanese kitchen. 

HOSHINOYA Tokyo is a unique experience in Japan's most-visited city. The hotel has been honored with a place on Condé Nast Traveler's 2017 Hot List. HOSHINOYA Tokyo honors a best-rate guarantee. (Guests may book a "Bed and Dinner" rate to ensure priority reservations.)

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02 of 06

HOSHINOYA Kyoto: A Gem in Japan's Treasure City

Hoshinoya Kyoto hotel looks like a Japanese temple
©Hoshino Resorts

Kyoto is Japan's treasure chest, laden with temples and shrines, gardens and parks, historic streets and age-old neighborhoods. Though it's Japan's most-visited destination after Tokyo, Kyoto lacks its own airport. You can connect from Tokyo (or select U.S. gateway airports) and fly to the business-oriented city of Osaka, an hour away. But the most exciting way to get to Kyoto is via Japan's legendary shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo, which takes only two hours and 20 minutes to cover the 300 miles. On a clear day, passengers are treated to a view of Mt. Fuji (on the right side of the train coming from Tokyo).

HOSHINOYA Kyoto perches in Kyoto's riverside Arashiyama district, once a retreat for the Emperor and now a Japanese-designated Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty. Though set a little ways from the center of town, Arashiyama is a place you'll want to spend time in -- that is, if you can tear yourself away from the hotel.

HOSHINOYA Kyoto was originally a tycoon's villa on the Hozugawa River, and guests still arrive by ferry (as shown in the photo at the beginning of this story). The inn was modernized just enough to ensure modern comfort while retaining its spirit of traditional Japanese architecture. The landscaping and scenery of the villa remain, capturing the Japanese reverence for nature, with luscious views of gardens and river from every room and suite.

Guest accommodations are in a restored century-old ryokan inn on the tycoon's property. Rooms come in three categories, and all are furnished in classic ryokan style, with bamboo floors, handcrafted square or round lamps, sliding shoji doors, and low sofas.

Opportunities for lounging abound at HOSHINOYA Kyoto. The spa incorporates the peaceful Zen Buddhist approach into treatments and baths. Two gardens offer quiet beauty; one has a pond and waterfall, the other mosaic designs. Dining gets you deep into traditional Japanese cuisine. It's interpreted by a forward-looking Japanese chef who perfected his style in London and France (see a sample of Chef Kubota's 14-course banquet menu). Dining is out of doors when possible, surrounded by flowering trees such as Japan's beloved cherry blossom tree. The restaurant's convivial open counter is also popular, as is room service. Breakfast offers Japanese, Continental, and American styles.

English-speaking concierges make a mission of showing you Kyoto. They tempt you wth a range of activities; workshops focus on cooking, kado flower arranging, and Zen incense-making. Perhaps the hotel's most unusual pastime is a walk through Kyoto's geisha district, the Gion, clad in your very own kimono for the day.

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03 of 06

HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: One of Japan's Most Famous Ryokan Inns

Japanese ryokan inn near Tokyo, Hoshinoya Karuizawa
©Hoshino Resorts

Only 90 minutes and a world away from clamorous Tokyo, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is a picturebook ryokan inn set in the mountains. Its forested tranquility makes a brilliant contrast to the clamorous capital, and this hotel is a popular weekend getaway for residents of and visitors to Tokyo.

HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is a resort village imbued with nature. Its 43 peak-roofed pavilions, which resemble Japanese chalets, feature enormous windows and vast terraces that deliver stirring views of the pristine mountain greenery or snowscape. The pavilions are cool and fresh in the summer and toasty in the winter, with geothermal floor heating that caresses your feet. Three categories of pavilions offer your choice of a riverside setting, or a private courtyard, or mountain solitude. Japanese-style rooms are earthy and spare yet lovely. One highlight of every pavilion is its deep cedarwood soaking tub at window level.

HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is a magnet for nature-lovers. Miles of walking paths run alongside the river, through the forests, and to the nearby bird sanctuary, which is open to hikers. Horseback rides furnish equestrian guests with a view of Mount Asama, an active volcano that often spouts a spume of spoke. (Take a virtual climb.)

Several on=property fine-dining restaurants offer exquisite cuisine. Kasuke serves a multi-course "mountain tasting meal" based on the local bounty as well as a Japanese meal whose main course is beef shabu-shabu. The more casual Sonmin Shokudo specializes in traditional Japanese dishes and ingredients including locally renowned miso and soba buckwheat noodles. The acclaimed Bleston Court Yukatawan serves French dishes with a Japanese sensibility. This restaurant's unique food is as elegant and as the room. Room service is popular with guests who can't get enough of their pavilion's comfort and views.

The hotel is renowned for its spa, yoga, and wellness programs. Its onsen hot-spring baths, famous in Japan, were established by Hoshino Resorts' founder in 1914, and draw on the healing spring waters of the spring first discovered by Mr. Hoshino. The Tombo-no-yu bath complex includes indoors and outdoor pools and a spring-water sauna. The Meditation Bath, open only to hotel guests, is designed for long, quiet, restorative soaks in its sunlit "Bath of Light" — and its enveloping, dark "Bath of Shadows." 

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04 of 06

HOSHINOYA Fuji: Outer-Space Digs Near One of Earth's Landmarks

One of Japan's most futuristic hotels, Hoshinoya Fuji
©Hoshinoya Resorts

The facts about HOSHINOYA Fuji might lead you to think it's pretty trendy: it's Japan's first glamping resorts ("glamour camping"), and its cabins look like a set from a space-voyage movie. Yet this resort is inseparable from eternal nature. It's set in a national park whose unique rock formations — craters, caves, outcroppings — were formed by volcanic eruptions eons ago. These strange sights are now joined by forests and Lake Kamaguchi. All of this spectacular nature is visible from the vast windows of HOSHINOYA's cabins. Best of all, every cabin has a jaw-dropping view of Mt. Fuji, Japan's most-recognized symbol (and provider of crazy mountain travel adventures).

The cabins, shown above, are minimalist, with stark angles, organic materials, and the comforts of a great bed and a balcony with a firepit or woodstove. This is a great hotel for getting away with someone special, but it's also a terrific place for specializing with other guests. The resort's terrace is like an adult playground, with an array of ergonomic seating that rocks, rolls, and in general make you never want to get up -- unless it's to hang at the bar or to join a crew heading out for an adventure planned and led by a "Glamping Master." Just a few options: an amazing crater hike, a horseback ride around the lake, or a canoe ride in it. 

Another popular pastime at HOSHINOYA Fuji is dining indoors or outdoors on the chef's "campsite food, à la HOSHINOYA," true "forest-to-table" cuisine. The indoor dining hall looks out on a hushed red pine forest. The chef grills locally sourced beef and other ingredients right in the dining hall, and guests can sit facing the grill station. For variety, guests can compose their own one-pot meals on the Cloud Terrace or dine in their cabins. 

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05 of 06

HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island: a Tropical Escape within Japan

Hoshinoya Taketomi Island resort near Okinawa
©Hoshino Resorts

Many people are unaware that Japan has a tropical region: its southern islands, Ryukyu, which include Okinawa of World War II fame. A very distinctive part of Japan, Ryukyu was a separate kingdom until the late 1800s, and has its own language and customs (and many World Heritage Sites). For Japanese visiting these islands, it's almost like visiting a foreign country — very similar to the way Americans feel about Hawaii.

HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island is a purely tropical resort that was built in the manner of a local village. Some of the resort's unusual features are its streets, made of the island's ample crushed coral; its open-air living rooms, all facing south to catch the ocean breezes; its thick hand-built stone walls, which ensure privacy. The walls are embedded with lucky talismans, and pavilion roofs are topped by a shisa lion figure, both Ryukyu traditions.

HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island guests come from Japan, Taiwan, and all over the world. They are eager to step off the grid, power down their phones, and settle into an island that time forgot. Taketomi Island boasts some of Japan's top coral reefs for snorkeling and diving -- in calm, warm waters the color of blue daiquiris. Guests have their pick of beaches on this small, circular island, perpetually caressed by sea breezes. Kaji Beach is known for shells shaped like stars, with five points.

Taketomi Island dining is steeped in local recipes and ingredients. Fish and seafood, fresh from the ocean, are highlights of the unique French-Okinowan menu of chef Tatsuo Nakasu, one of Japan's masters of classic Gallic cuisine. (Foodies: see how the chef manages fresh produce on a coral island with no soil for growing.) Dinner is a multi-course tasting meal, while lunch is composed of a la carte small plates, and breakfast is either Western or Japanese-style. In-room dining is available. Find out more about the Okinowan island it embraces. 

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06 of 06

HOSHINOYA Bali: In Legendary Ubud

Hoshinoya Bali, a beautiful hotel in Ubud
©Hoshino Resort

We know: Bali is not in Japan. But the HOSHINOYA brand is expanding, and Bali is its first foray outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. It is set on Indonesia's enchanted island of Bali, which reveres the Hindu faith and the arts. The resort is not on the beach but in mystical Ubud in the center of the island — a place that's a bucket-list fantasy for travelers seeking authentic locales stuffed with UNESCO World Heritage amazements.

Anyway, what's even better than a beach? The resort is arranged like a temple complex around an ancient, sacred stream that wind thir way through HOSHINOYA Bali. Alluring pools set alongside the flowing waters may look like temple reflecting ponds, but they are swimming pools, and every villa opens directly onto them.

The villas themselves are works of art created in traditional Balinese style by local craftsmen and artists. These accommodations are not only magnificent to look at; they are delightfully comfortable to live in. Villas' spacious and gracious interiors are complemented by private gazebos for lounging and taking in Bali's everpresent breezes.

Dining is enjoyed at HOSHINOYA Bali's sensuous open-air restaurant, which marries the exotic seasonings of Bali with the freshness and purity of Japanese cuisine. More delights for the senses are provided by the resort's spa, with treatment rooms open to the tropical forest. This is the place to experience a sunset yoga class or a Balinese massage by a demure yet forceful local maiden. HOSHINOYA Bali is like a dream.

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