Surprise and Delight.
It’s hard to imagine that these places exist.
Perhaps it has something to do with the literal time travel required to get here but time seems to move much slower in Japan. It’s part of what makes a visit so magical. Pair that with the admiration you come to feel for the culture and the wonderment of the natural beauty and somehow time begins to almost stand still.
As one who is confounded by the need to “stop and smell the Sakura”, there have been only a handful of instances when my surroundings have left me literally taking a step back in utter awe. And without being braggadocious, I’ve seen some stuff! However, I can say for certain that, until now, that has never happened when walking into a hotel room.
Time alone with a world heritage icon.
Much how Aspen stands alone near or at the top of global luxury destinations, there is a short list of global landmarks that nearly every human on earth can recognize at a glance: The Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, the Matterhorn, the Acropolis, the Grand Canyon, Mt. Fuji come to mind. Most are cultural or natural world heritage sites with the inherent dichotomy of strict conservation efforts and/or horrible gluts of tourist overexposure.
Certainly, there are many opportunities worldwide to stay near or within sight of a global landmark. Perhaps even in one. However, this often comes at a price greater than the actual cost. Accessibility, political unrest, comfort, lack of seclusion are all considerable deterrents. Part of what is so comforting about a Hoshino resort, particularly the flagship Hoshinoya brand, is that you get all the best of the location with none of the obstacles.
The most perfectly composed hotel room view?
A different type of welcome.
A unique quality found at every Hoshinoya resort is the welcome process. Each does something that relates to part of the resort’s essence. At Hoshinoya Kyoto, you are met on a dock, graciously ushered into a boat and delivered to the hotel on the banks of the Oi River a mile or so upstream. Regardless of the resort, it is an unexpected trait that immediately engages one’s imagination to prepare for something extraordinary.
With lakeside views of the imposing Mt. Fuji around every corner, we arrived by taxi from the nearby train station. In true omotenashi style, they greeted us with a bow and by name then asked if we enjoyed our stay at Kai Alps (see Journey to Japan: Chapter 2). They went further to ask if the sake selection was to our liking and if the weather improved for skiing. By this point in our journey, we weren’t surprised they knew so much about us prior to arrival. I was actually more amused than amazed. Until true omotenashi has been experienced, it’s hard to describe the sense of welcome it immediately provides. Unfortunately, it also begs the question of why more places around the world, even 5 and 6-star resorts can’t embrace this level of care for guests. But it certainly elevates an appreciation for Japan that much more.
Next level glamping.
At Hoshinoya Fuji – their proclaimed “glamping resort” – guest arrival occurs at a modern and stylish welcome building in the foothills before being taken by Jeep up to the hotel. I had seen pictures of Hoshinoya Fuji and was very eager to get up the hill to see it for myself. But before heading for the jeep, we were presented with a wall of stylish backpacks and asked to pick our choice. It came pre-packed with a few necessities for enjoying a day of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing). A blanket, water bottle, air mat to sit on, headlamp and a little snack. Once properly prepared, we were taken up the hill and directly to our room.
Glamping, in the true sense this is not. However, the overall experience certainly lends itself to a particular clientele that wants to experience aspects of spending time in the woods without giving up any of the creature comforts. Most importantly, the Toto! This is immediately apparent when you lay eyes on the “cabins”. Made from formed concrete, they resemble something out of a science fiction movie rather than Camp Kikiwaka.
“The rooms are designed to maximize…”
As we were led to the starkly minimalist structure, our host was explaining many of the subtle details of the design that tie the structure to the location. The keys are also bird calls (yes, they use keys not electronic cards…traditional, and I love it) and the stamped concrete employs a wood grain. As she opened the door I vaguely recall her mentioning something about the interior shape and angles of the room mimic a telescope to maximize the impact of the view through the wall to ceiling windows. This was the point where I literally stopped in my tracks, the talking became a murmur as I was floored by what I was seeing.
I have to stop here. There is simply no way to express what walking into this room is like. The photos are as close as it gets. We came and went several times during our stay and the view became even more magnificent each time. At one point I snuck back by myself to just sit there for a moment to try and take it all in.
Superlatives: The service. The extras. The food.
We live in Colorado. We camp and sit by the fire all the time. But this is much different. The surroundings are idyllic. Appetizers are put out in the evening along with several varieties of homemade hot chocolate and accouterments, namely Japanese whiskey which was another part of what brought us to Hoshinoya Fuji. Each night, a whiskey tasting is presented fireside on the Cloud Terrace for the guests. The Cloud Terrace is an intricate structure of various terraces and walkways that perfectly blend into the forest. Each spot begs you to sit and relax. Once again, in the true omotenashi style they somehow knew that my friend was a whiskey aficionado to which they prepared a private tasting for just the two of us.
By this time, the chill of the evening began to wear off as we were several glasses deep. As the dinner hour approached, my recollection of the rest of the evening begins to get a little hazy. The dining experiences figure prominently in any Hoshinoya visit. Service and presentation are at a scale of 11 out of 10. After several courses of appetizers, wild game, amazing desserts and of course another whiskey then a wine course and I was done.
Kotatsu tables: the outdoor dining missing link
I take it most of us westerners have never seen a kotatsu table. We had one on our deck and it’s incredible. Forget the ugly, clumsy and inefficient patio heaters you see everywhere in Aspen. A kotatsu is a low wooden table. Similar to what you would see in the tatami room at Kenichi in Aspen. The biggest difference is that these are covered with a heavy blanket that extends out to cover the guests. But the kicker is that the underside of the table is heated! It’s like putting your lower half into a warming oven.
Well, under the kotatsu is where I woke up sometime around 4 am. I vaguely recall joking earlier that’s where I was going to sleep. I guess I’m a man of my word.
One last send off.
It’s a good thing I was comfortable, right on schedule at 8:30 our in-room breakfast arrived. Our host along with a server equipped with a backpack meant to resemble the traditional climbing packs worn on Mt. Fuji pilgrimages prepared our food on my bed, or rather the kotatsu … It was a delicious mix of homemade pastries, jams, rice, and other assorted bite-sized dishes. They informed us that we were very lucky. It was a beautiful day with Fuji in clear view. Evidently, seeing the massive mountain is far from a guarantee. We had the last few hours to soak it all in before our short journey back to Tokyo.
Hoshinoya Fuji and any Hoshino resort is an experience almost not to be believed. Our short time there didn’t disappoint in any capacity. They truly are among the finest establishments in the world. On the Jeep ride back down the hill, I renewed my vow to continue my new life’s purpose of visiting every Hoshino resort on the planet!
Hospitality by Hoshino Resorts