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Japan is no stranger to luxury accommodations. It is by far one of the most fascinating and culturally unique destinations in the world. Japan’s National Tourism Organization has unveiled a series of unique luxury accommodation models that will satisfy the most discerning travelers and keep them coming back to the land of the Rising Sun.
The Asian country welcomes nearly 28 million visitors a year who look to explore its unique culture, which is showcased through: 22 UNESCO World Heritage sites, excellent infrastructure, ski resorts, hot springs, and unforgettable landscapes.
As a result, Japan has become the fastest growing tourist destination in Asia over the last decade.
Hospitality on the island nation is second to none. The Japanese pride themselves on being polite, graceful, and friendly, which translates into a level of service akin to a carefully crafted art form. These days, finding luxury accommodations in Japan has become even more interesting and exciting. The leading luxury hotel chains are well established in the country, and their five-star white glove service is what many have come to expect.
Those who frequently travel to Japan for business or leisure will be thrilled by the idea of finding new, unusual and unique luxury accommodations. From temples steeped in history, to renowned art installations doubling as hotels, here are some impressive finds for your next trip to Japan.
The singularity of Japan’s traditional Ryokans cannot be overlooked. These hotels date back to the eighth century, and are usually located near hot springs and scenic areas, such as in the mountains or by the sea.
The accommodations are constructed using traditional Japanese methods and feature tatami floors, sliding doors, and ample Zen gardens that make for an authentic, carefully crafted experience with utmost attention to every detail.
Dining typically consists of traditional Japanese cuisine or kaiseki—light meals served during a tea ceremony consisting of a tasting menu of nine or more small, varied dishes.
Japanese temples used to be the realm of monks, trainees, and pilgrims. These magnificent structures can be found floating on tranquil lakes or around majestic mountains and hot springs. Nowadays these temples offer guests the opportunity to experience Shukubo, which means “sleeping with the monks.”
Staying at one of these Buddhist temples offers the kind of luxury that is more experiential than material.
The accommodations are exceptional and quiet. Between collective meditation sessions, or zazen, yoga, recitation of sacred sutras, or the morning fire ritual of esoteric Buddhism, visitors are spoiled with choices.
For those interested in visiting these temples, Terahaku, a Japanese tourism website, offers a broad range of more than one hundred temples to choose from, including the 1,300-year-old Mii-dera (also known as Onjo-ji Temple) near Japan’s largest lake, Biwa-Ko, in the Shiga Prefecture.
We visited in late March, just in time for the Sakura, the annual cherry blossom festival.
This location turned out to be the best since there were few visitors and we avoided the crowds that are common during the festival in other famous Japanese destinations.
KYO NO ONDOKORO, KYOTO
The Kyo no Ondokoro project made its debut in the second quarter of 2018 in Kyoto, Japan’s ancient imperial capital. In this case, the luxury accommodations come in the form of Kyomachiya, which translates into “capital townhouse.”
These traditional townhouses offer a highly unique experience. They are constructed from sustainable materials like wood, earthwork, clay, and other natural resources, and have been a fixture in Kyoto since the early 1500s.
Wacoal Group, the company behind the project, is breathing new life into these structures, offering guests a luxurious home-away-from-home in a traditionally designed and tastefully appointed private house.
The concept behind this project is to see life as a local and experience what other tourists can only observe from afar, including the Samurai and Geico districts where the fabled geishas are still very much in business, providing elegant entertainment.
HOUSE OF LIGHT, NIGATA
The House of Light is a meditative chromatic art installation by American artist James Turrell. This immersive work of art doubles as a distinctive luxury accommodation like nothing you’ve seen before.
The building reflects the juxtaposition of old and new, day and night, and an exploration of Eastern and Western sensibilities.
The artists drew inspiration from Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay, “In Praise of Shadows.”
Turrell plays with light to create an aesthetic where the light inside is complemented—throughout the day—by the light outside.
The House of Light comes with a sliding roof so guests can gaze at the sky through the open ceiling.
SASAYAMA CASTLE TOWN HOTEL NIPPONIA, HYOGO
The Sasayama Castle Town Hotel, Nipponia, is a unique luxury accommodation in Hyōgo Prefecture: it is an old castle town founded in the early 1600s close to Kyoto.
This unusual luxury hotel consists of five traditional homes that have been carefully restored.
Each unit comes with all the modern comforts, while maintaining its original charm, allowing you to feel like you’re living in a quaint castle town from the Edo and Showa eras. You will also have access to state-of-the-art facilities and exquisite French cuisine made with local ingredients.
The surrounding city is imbued with the sound of birds, as well as the darkness and silence of the night. In town, you will find restored samurai mansions turned into chic cafes, art shops and restaurants offering classic Japanese fare with a sophisticated twist. However, the best activity in town is to don a kimono and walk the quaint streets taking snapshots that will make your Instagram account explode with thousands of likes.
Indeed, Japan is more than the sleek neon-lit skyscrapers that dot the streets of Tokyo. Next time you visit, try an out-of-the-box indulgent accommodation and discover another side of luxury: the one that tugs at your heart with authentic experiences that will last a lifetime. ■