Even in Kyoto Hearing the cuckoo's cry I long for Kyoto.

(Basho Matsuo)

In 2015, when the then Hotel Okura Tokyo (now The Okura Tokyo) began preparations for its massive reconstruction plan in anticipation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, I had the pleasure to meet the hotel staff and feature the refurbishment concept in this magazine (“Rebirth of the Okura: A New Facelift for Hotel Okura Tokyo"). I had always been an ardent advocate of the original hotel’s interior design and aesthetics that firmly represented Japanese traditional craftsmanship, and was, thus, utterly saddened by the inevitable decision for renovation. In the next six years in 2021, once again, I embarked on covering the “new face” of the hotel after it unveiled its towering glass buildings The Okura Heritage Wing and the Okura Prestige Tower, under its novel name The Okura Tokyo on Tokyo Weekender magazine (“The Best Tokyo Hotels for Art Lovers: The Okura Tokyo"). Visitors who have a chance to walk into the present The Okura Tokyo will be relieved to witness some artistic features that had been carefully preserved from the original construction.

It was, therefore, a profound honor for me to have experienced a stay at the charming Hotel Okura Kyoto Okazaki Bettei in Kyoto that opened in January last year. Located in the heart of Kyoto city in the Okazaki area, the humble luxury hotel is swarmed by cultural and artistic sites, such as Ginkakuji Temple, Heian Jingu Shrine, Higashi Hongan-ji Temple Okazaki Betsuin, Okazaki Shrine, and Kyoto’s major museums. It is a perfect abode to enjoy Kyoto’s abundant nature surrounding the Higashiyama mountains, with radiant cherry blossoms and plum trees blooming from the hotel’s Geishun garden, and maple trees in its Senshu garden.

The Higashiyama culture’s innate attributes of wabi/sabi, texture, and harmony are delicately embedded in the establishment’s overall architecture and interior furnishings. To implement this, six members of the Kyoto-based collaborative group, GO ON, have come together to integrate stylistic interpretations of Kyoto's ancestry, which can be felt throughout the hotel’s interior. Fusing the fundamentals of art, design, science, and technology, the group aimed to generate unique creative expressions of Nishijin textile weave, woodwork, bamboo craft, wire mesh, pottery, glasswork, lacquer craft, handmade tea caddies, calligraphy, and Japanese painting—all embodying the spirit of “a new era of Kyoto aesthetics.”

The exterior facade is inspired by the historical Japanese residential architectural style. A small pond encircles the entrance path, beautifully reflecting the adjacent shrubs and trees. At the lobby entrance, one is greeted by original lighting by the Kyoto company Kanaami-Tsuji, which specializes in copper wire netting carefully woven by craftsmen. The lobby reception opens to a glass wall revealing the peaceful garden view outside, and a modern calligraphy artwork inside by Kyoto shodo (calligraphy) artist Tomoko Kawao. The work, titled feng ming zhao yang (a phoenix singing in the morning sun), symbolizes world peace originating from a Chinese legend. Around the lounge and dining area, sophisticated Nishijin textiles created by Hosoo, a long-established Nishijin weaving company, appear as wallpaper, evoking Japanese traditional craft’s subtle elegance. These textiles also shimmer above the bed headboards and alcove ceilings of the guest rooms, patterned after the reflection of the lake.

The lounge layout is particularly notable as it is void of partitions, following an L-framework, characteristic of the horizontally-continuous Japanese architecture, so that guests can absorb a maximum perspective of Kyoto aesthetics indoors, as well as a full, panoramic view of the garden outdoors. The Nouvelle Epoque French restaurant is accented by an abstract painting of Kyoto-based artist Tokuro Kojima. The side of the restaurant is flanked by a shelf divider, crafted in bamboo by Kohchosai Kosuga, a long-standing manufacturer of bamboo craftwork. Its intricate meshwork displays various objet d’art in wood, lacquer, tin, ceramic, clay, and glass by excellent artists. Such bamboo craft technique also decorates the walls of the elevator hall on the ground floor and upper floors, exuding the natural warmth of daintily finished latticework. There is also a private function room with a sloping ceiling, and a special display of Asahiyaki ware tea bowls crafted by Hosai Matsubayashi XVI. Asahiyaki pottery is based in Uji, Kyoto, with an admirable history traced as far as 400 years ago.

Needless to say, the guest room is purely comfortable, spacious and relaxing, with a seating area on the balcony facing the Higashi Hongan-ji Temple Okazaki Betsuin. Sixty guest rooms offer a mountain lodge theme that harmonizes ideally with the natural environment. Ancient Japanese-style shelving supported by pillars is made from Kitayama cedar and walnut timber.

Apart from Hosoo woven textile wall treatment, some of the suites display Kawao’s calligraphy works. Wooden decorative objects by Shuji Nakagawa of Nakagawa Wooden Crafts are found on the walls, accompanying graceful tea cups and a kettle set. Further, each room number is decorated with an artistic light design resembling tea canisters from Kaikado, the oldest tea caddy manufacturing company in Japan dating from 1875. Golden light glows gently at night, like filling the corridor with Japanese classic lanterns. Each floor corridor is illuminated either with Satoshi Sato's lotus petal-inspired glasswork in radiant blue, orange, and brown, or Genta Ishizuka's modern lacquer work in black, deep brown and gold leaf that creates mysterious shadows on the wall. While sipping a soothing cup of Japanese tea or cocktail drink out in the garden seating area, one can absolutely embrace the cool breeze from the encircling mountains, and savor the refined Japanese landscape of rocks, pebbles, bamboo, rich greenery and floral setting. Hotel Okura Kyoto Okazaki Bettei certainly completes the ultimate desire for an authentic Kyoto experience.