Kyoto has always been high on tourism destination hit lists, with popularity only increasing in the run up to this year’s Olympics. For a more intimate stay in this stunning city, from world renowned architects blending traditional Japanese design elements with modern minimalism, to guesthouses with a focus on curating locally-crafted finishings, I’ve put together my top picks of Kyoto’s best boutique accommodations…
Now with two properties in the city, the Maana homes are both stunningly restored machiya (traditional Japanese wooden home) guesthouses. Established by two friends and former designers, Hana Tsukamoto and Irene Chang, they were inspired by Kyoto’s simple but meaningful way of life. Working with acclaimed Kyoto architect Shigenori Uoya to renovate the interiors, their focus was on achieving balance and harmony to create a comfortable space with the modern luxuries expected of a five star stay, whilst preserving the atmosphere of the original building. Every aspect of each design has been carefully thought out, from the dark and sultry shower room in Maana Kamo, to the handcrafted ceramic bathtub overlooking the pristine garden in Maana Kyoto.
Each property makes exceptional use of space and light, the newest opening, Maana Kamo, having a more contemporary flare but still staying true to its roots with exposed earth walls and traditional shoji sliding doors, the space is a haven of relaxation. The design details throughout have been carefully curated to complement the space and wherever possible pieces have been crafted right here in Kyoto and her surrounds. Wakabaya pottery pieces are the epitome of wabi-sabi style and the ambience instilled by the glass lights of Kyoto’s Miura Shomei come together to create a truly inspirational stay.
Both properties comprise all the amenities necessary for feasting so why not visit the basement floor of any department store to pick up Kyoto’s freshest ingredients and cook up a storm in the perfectly appointed kitchen.
Located on a small lane is a collection of 10 traditional machiya properties that form a private lantern-lit alley in a quiet residential area not far from Nijo Castle. Shiki Juraku fuses age-old Kyoto artistry with modern Japanese design. A metallic gate (by architect Tsuyoshi Tane) opens into a private space that feels calmly connected to nature, with exotic ferns dotted along the walkway. Inside, the attention to detail is a treat for the senses. Finishing touches from 10 top Japanese artisans include contemporary photographic artworks by Taisuke Koyama, organically-dyed cushions and soft-furnishings by Kyoto artist Haruka Nomura and furniture chosen by renowned stylist and author, Kazuto Kobayashi.
Each of the 10 machiya are unique in design and layout yet all have a similar feel, with dark wood contrasting against white walls and modern soft-furnishings on vintage-style furniture. Mezzanine level bedrooms with comfy Western-style beds and minimal glass lights are perfectly appointed and the modern bathrooms come with either wood, stone or ceramic tubs overlooking small private gardens.
The Western style breakfast directed by Kimiko Hiyamizu is delicious. Local, seasonal and healthy, the flavour combinations are a real treat for the palate and for dinner, local restaurants and cafés are listed in a bespoke hotel map that is presented to you upon checking in.
Kokinse, “little Kinse” in Japanese, is a 100 year old building that has been renovated into two accommodation units, blending traditional details with modern amenities.
Kokinse A, the front unit, sleeps 4 and was designed to showcase the structure of the building. The first floor is a very modern interpretation of that, with clean minimal lines, concrete floors, and a large central skylight opening over the dining table. There are a number of beautiful design details from the original building; hints of tile and brick exposed in quirky positions on walls and floors give the space a unique style. Upstairs, the atmosphere is more traditional, with tatami rooms, earthen walls, and an area of open ceiling revealing large wooden beams.
Kokinse B, the back unit, sleeps 2 and has a markedly more playful feel, whilst still being sympathetic to the origins of the building. There’s an interesting mix of outdoor/indoor with the lofted ceilings, pounded earthen floors, and the greenhouse-come-bathroom area.
Kokinse’s sister property, Kinse Ryokan is a 2 minute walk around the corner, here they have a café and bar area serving Iwashi coffee, roasted on the property, even mixing it up into coffee negronis, which can be accompanied by seasonal fruit tarts, pound cakes and cheese scones. The bright yellow hammock in Kokinse B is the perfect place to relax and owner Seanacey offers ikebana workshops for guests to enjoy in the main ryokan building.
Owned by a Kyoto Heritage pickle merchant, Bijuu is a three room hotel set in the heart of the city. The essence of chic living, designer Teruhiro Yanagihara has created a home-from-home that is a celebration of international design, from the seasonal ikebana arrangements that change with each guest, to pottery by 1616, to bath products from Philip B, the space is one that you won’t want to leave.
Textured walls juxtaposed amongst polished concrete are softened with interesting rugs and jewel-tone cushions to give a rich and warming atmosphere. Room 501, the largest of the three suites, has commanding views over the eastern Higashiyama mountains and the raised stone bathtub in the living space is what interior dreams are made of.
Western or Japanese breakfast is served in-room and the building has a second floor restaurant, Kiln, also designed by Yanagihara, which serves dishes straight from their wood-fire oven. The private sauna in room 501 is pure indulgence, while the rows of cherry trees outside the window of room 302 are stunning when in their springtime bloom.