Sep. 28th, 2020
Japan is a destination like no other with a rich culture and heritage built on thousands of years emperors, samurai, and geishas. Tokyo is akin to New York, London, or Paris and the financial, business, and brains, if you will, of Japan. To the south is Kyoto that could be referred to as the soul of Japan due to its artistic and cultural influences as well as its natural beauty. On the outskirts of Kyoto, amongst the mountains, bamboo forests, and rivers, is Arashiyama and where you will find one of Japan’s most beguiling boutique hotels, the Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel.
Thirty minutes by train outside of central Kyoto is the land of the samurai, monks, and where mythical creatures once ruled the mountains and forests. The natural beauty of the Arashiyama hills is spectacular as is the Hozu River which flows through the valley and forms a lake sized water reservoir at the edge of town. Akin to the redwood forests of the American northwest, Kyoto has its own Instagram famous Sagano bamboo forest filled with countless 100-foot-tall bamboo trees. Unlike the central district of Kyoto, Arashiyama is much more low key where everything pretty much shuts down after 8 pm at night. The majestic aura of the area is due to the emperors and nobles who, in centuries past, had opulent summer residences there. Today those homes are must-visit UNESCO heritage temples and shrines where you will walk through the hallowed hallways, take in the beautiful lily pad and koi ponds, and stroll through the meticulous Japanese gardens.
Located on the banks of the Hozu River, the Suiran is within walking distance to most of the key attractions of the area. Unlike many of the larger luxury hotels in central Kyoto, the Suiran offers an indigenous hotel experience centered on Japan’s rich culture and traditions. The views from the property are of the river, mountains, the iconic bridge. Guests will be overtaken by the serenity and peaceful ambiance of the hotel.
Upon entering past a fortress wall and through the traditional gate, guests feel as if they have walked into a Japanese landscape painted on lacquerware. Surrounded by nature, gravel walking paths, black pine trees, Japanese red maple, and centuries-old pagodas, time seems to slow as the calming water elements, and gardens bring inner peace. It is at this point that guests fully understand the concept of Zen.
The 39-room boutique hotel opened in 2015 on the grounds of the Tenryuji Temple, a World Heritage site. Eons ago. it was part of the 14th-century summer palace of emperor Godagio. In modern times, the residence was the summer retreat of the 19th-century industrialist Baron Shozo Kawasaki whose company two generations later would begin to produce motorcycles. The wooden architecture, design, and décor resemble a ryokan and in fact, the well-preserved residences built by Kawasaki over 100 years ago are today the buildings where there Kyo-Suiran restaurant and café are located.
Part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection hotels, the Suiran is a beautiful blend of the ancient with the modern as well as Japan and the West. The staff embodies omotenashi or authentic Japanese hospitality which is an integral part of the stay. In every interaction with staff, dressed in their traditional Yukata, are provide guests with exceptional personalized service impossible to find in the much larger hotels.
Guests will absolutely love the complimentary Champagne Sundowner that takes place each evening as the sun sets over Mount Arashi. Taking place at the Tea Room overlooking the river, guests sip on champagne and nosh on traditional Japanese canapes. The setting and experience are sublime and just as you feel you found your way to vacation nirvana, a display like no other unfolds before you. The entertainment is in the form of a display by local fishermen who fish in a way unlike any other in the world. As dusk turns to nightfall, several boats appear with a roaring fire burning at the bow. In front of the boat are cormorant birds that have been trained to catch the river’s fish that are drawn to the light of the fire. The birds leased to a string, catch fish, and then the “fisherman” draws the bird back to the boat and takes the precious catch. The incredible site has been a tradition for thousands of years and unlike any in the world.
The 39-guest rooms are set in a three-story Japanese style building. The accommodations are posh and comfortable inspired by traditional ryokan-style with elegant art pieces, painted screens, textured walls, and black lacquer furniture. Five categories of rooms vary in size and amenities with some offering carpeting and others with tatami mat floor covering. All are spacious in size with modern conveniences, including Nespresso coffee machines, flatscreen TVs, and well-appointed bathrooms with high tech TOTO toilets.
Guests will also appreciate the uber comfortable cotton kimonos as daywear to relax during your stay. Turn down service includes a treat, pleasant thought on a notecard to ponder before sleep, and Japanese pajamas. Rooms on the upper floors feature a balcony that overlooks the river or forest while rooms on the first floor feature a private outdoor terrace and sitting area.
Many of the rooms feature an outdoor cedar-wood hot-spring soaking tubs or onsen with mineral-rich and healing waters from the Arashiyama spring brought in from nearby. The waters are heated to a balmy 80 degrees assuring a soak to relieve tension found deep within the muscles. All guests can book time at the two private stone grottos for a relaxing respite or a private spa treatment.
The Suiran offers two dining options including the highly regarded Japanese fine dining restaurant, Kyo-Suiran. The hotel also offers a second restaurant, Café Hassui, offering high tea, lunch, and the aforementioned sundowners. The dining experience is part of the immersion in Japanese culture and tradition. Guests in either venue dine-in restored original 19th-century residences of Baron Shozo Kawasaki. The ryokan style wooden buildings offer a step back in time with exposed beams, shoji screens, original art, and museum-quality calligraphy from a century ago.
Much like the Suiran is fully Japanese yet with western touches, so is the cuisine. The gourmet dining experience centers on Washoku cuisine which is Japanese food prepared in the French style. The executive chef worked at 3 Michelin star restaurants in France before returning to Japan, so the French influence and haute preparation techniques are experienced in each dish. It is truly a night of the best of both worlds with an extravagant 12-course menu that ebbs and flows from sublime dish to the next. For another dining experience in a separate part of the restaurant, opt for grilled beef and seafood prepared as you watch the culinary dexterity of the chef at their Teppanyaki Kansan dining table.
For a more casual affair, Café Hassui offers a scenic view along the Hozu River. The restaurant serves lunch as well as while an exquisite Japanese high tea and the aforementioned unforgettable sundowner experience.
The Suiran could not be in a better location to explore the travel gems that Arashiyama has to offer. A beautiful river runs through the landscape at the base of a mountain. There, the iconic Togetsu-kyo bridge sees tourists come and go and explore the village which is bustling with tourists. You will see visitors dressed in their rented kimono looking for the ideal spot to take a social media hall of fame photo. Rickshaws everywhere and are a fun way to see the sights as its quasi tour guide and driver runs his passengers around town.
Just a few minutes stroll away is the region’s most famous attraction, the Bamboo forest. Guests and stroll through the paths that cut through the ethereal forest and admire this truly breathtaking sight. It is a popular destination but being literally right next door to the park means that you can get there early before the crowds show up. The park opens at 7 am and typically the day-tripper crowds start to show at nine, so you will be able to experience it essentially alone and get that photo without a hoard of people in the background.
A few minutes’ walk in the other direction and adjacent to the hotel is the UNESCO World Heritage site Tenryu-ji Temple which is one of the most spectacular in all of Japan so it is a must-visit site while there. There are several other smaller temples as well worth a visit all with their serene gardens and koi pond and ancient architecture from centuries past.
A 15-minute walk away and across the Togetsu-kyo bridge is another attraction worthy of your visit, the Iwatayama Monkey Park.
A 15-minute walk away and across the Togetsu-kyo bridge is another attraction worthy of your visit, the Iwatayama Monkey Park. The park is located in the highlands of a mountain and requires a 25-minute hike up a steep stairway. Once there, the site is dozens of wild Japanese macaque monkeys. The precocious are just as curious about humans and you’ll see them coming and going, cooling off in a pond or letting guests get up close to them in a feeding area. It’s truly an interesting site where you can also take in the amazing views of the city and landscapes.
When we travel, we are often in search of personal growth and enlightenment. The Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, allows guests to fully immerse themselves in the Japanese culture and traditions. The boutique hotel offers all the amenities required by the most demanding guests all in the center of one of the most amazing corners of the world.