Leaving Behind Some of the Best Aspen Snow
Ullr doesn’t have any influence over Murphy (Law that is)…
It’s 3:45 am. It’s been snowing for several days in Aspen. Of course, it has. About this time every morning for the last month, I find myself checking the weather conditions for Hakuba, Japan. Snow in the Japanese Alps doesn’t seem to be an issue. That is except for the week prior to our departure. Not only had it not snowed in a week but the forecast was calling for rain. A lot of rain.
To be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for hitting the powder lottery nor did I really care. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Japan twice in the previous year. To say I’m smitten is an understatement. We’ve gone so far as to consider moving there for a summer. So just knowing that I was headed back was enough to be excited about. There is so much to be said about this fascinating and awe-inspiring land. Many have written and conversed about it, but until you experience it for yourself, it’s not to be believed.
The Greatest Hotel Group You’ve Never Heard Of
How to one-up life’s most memorable moments:
Over the course of previous visits to Japan, I’ve spent about three weeks and didn’t even scratch the surface of the surface. There was no highlight rather it was one continual highlight. If there is one moment that will always resonate with me, it’s getting off the boat and walking up onto the property of Hoshinoya Kyoto. I kid you not, I cried.
You embark on the boat that will take you to HOSHINOYA Kyoto. It begins to slowly drift along a river that once bustled with boats, which carried people as well as goods. No matter the season, it is always a little cooler on the boat than it is on land. Finally, you arrive at your destination. The trip has taken just fifteen minutes–but each minute has felt momentous.
Let’s rewind for a moment…
Hoshinoya Kyoto was recommended to me by a well-traveled friend. Online it looked great. But let’s face it, three-star hotels do an amazing job of looking five-star. Reviews were largely positive as well. I looked further and saw that rates were a mere JPY800,000 which roughly translated to $80/night! How could this be? It must be a glitch! I checked again. Same thing. So I booked it! Four nights, non-refundable, done. A moment later my phone dings showing a $3200 charge to my credit card.
Ladies and gentleman, the math genius got his decimal points wrong converting the currency. I realized my error and contacted the property. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to grant a refund but because I was booking so far in advance (120 days) I would, therefore, qualify for their “Earlybird Booking” offers and they would grant a generous 60% off. When all was said and done I could have saved myself a mild panic attack.
Kyoto’s famed craftmanship and celebrated history pervade every inch of this fully restored century-old property. From the woodblock-print designs in guestrooms to the refined Kaiseki meals, landscaped grounds and timeless setting in Arashiyama, a former playground of court nobles.
From your guest pavilion, you can hear both the gurgling of the stream flowing by the pavilion and the slightly quieter murmuring of the Oi River below. Other sounds soon drift in. From deep inside the forests across the river, you hear a doe calling its child. Evenings come alive with the singing of insects and frogs, to be replaced by birdsong in the morning.
Inside the guest pavilions are railings and doors of pristine wood, cleansed of every trace of grime and dirt through a traditional Kyoto woodworking technique known as arai. These objects have a timelessness that is reflected in the serene elegance of the pavilions. Here, you are lulled into a dream-like trance by the aroma of freshly laid tatami matting and the gentle flow of the Oi River, visible right outside the windows.
Bedroom walls are covered with karakami wallpaper, featuring delicate gold patterns that change colors throughout the day. Enchanting compositions of light and shadow are projected around the room by shoji paper sliding doors and subdued lighting.
HOSHINOYA Kyoto is a place that is defined by the seasons. Chef Ichiro Kubota pays homage to this concept in his cuisine by creating tiny seasonal moments in each dish. To this seasonal concept, he adds a dash of Western essence to offer Japanese guests a unique twist on Kyoto cuisine, while also providing a hint of familiarity to overseas guests experiencing Kyoto cuisine for the first time.
The scent of aromatic wood. The quiet solitude of a Buddhist temple. Meals that incorporate seasonal ingredients and are enjoyed in the privacy of one’s pavilion. Spa treatments designed to revitalize and rebalance one’s self, conducted in serene environments. At HOSHINOYA Kyoto, you will be introduced to unique experiences that are steeped in the city’s culture. They will sharpen your senses and cleanse you from the inside.
Now, fast forward!
Putting together a trip to Japan can be a bit daunting even having done it before. I figured the best way to guard against sub-par skiing would be to bolster other areas of the trip. A new Hoshinoya Tokyo had opened in 2016 shortly after our visit to Kyoto and it has been on my watch list ever since. After inquiring, I came to learn that Hoshino Resorts operates 4 distinct brands spread over 37 properties in and outside of Japan. If I did this right I could hopscotch across Japan staying exclusively in Hoshino resorts. And, that’s exactly what we did.
Tokyo Base Camp.
The effect of the journey to Japan is like being drunk and hungover at the same time with a dash of sleep deprivation. If you are lucky enough to fly into Haneda Airport you will arrive just as rush hour is starting in Tokyo Station. It’s a spectacle that will make you realize just how far from home you really are! You’ll never look at a salmon swimming upstream the same again.
My suggestion is to pull over for a moment. Grab a Kirin Ichiban from any of the countless kiosks. Stand there and literally watch the world go by. Drinking a beer in the station is fine, but don’t walk and drink. In addition to smoking, talking and eating … drinking and walking is not something the Japanese do. Once you settle into the rhythm, hop the Yamanote Line. Tokyo’s rail system is unmatched in every way. Getting help with tickets, directions, etc is simple. Everyone is pleased to help you and will literally walk you onto a train if necessary.
Omo5 Hotel, get with the local rhythm. With a guide.
Make your way to Omo5 located in Otskua (pronounced “Oat-ska”), a northern and more traditional part of the city that modern Tokyo is starting to forget. It’s fantastic. Omo is the newest brand from Hoshino which provides a modern take on the ryokan. With this type of traditional lodging, Omo5 looks to maintain a certain atmosphere that highlights the culture, comforts and traditionally unmatched hospitality and service of Japan. However, here you all have modern conveniences. The rooms are small, simple and impeccably designed in the style of a yagura; a type of Japanese wooden tower. If you travel with kids, they won’t want to leave the room.
An innovative room for tourists with a slight mix of Japanese-style relaxation. The elevated bed makes full use of the walls and the vertical space. The “Multifunctional Wall” is integrated with functions such as a TV, mirror, hanger, and towel rack, and the space is wide despite being compact. It is a private space that can be enjoyed somewhat like a secret base.
The Omo concepts are meant to be a base camp for travelers. Less about the hotel, although the facilities are wonderful, the Omo experience is about what is to be found beyond the front door. To facilitate this they present the “Omo Rangers”, a type of local guide. Each with its own specialty, you can get out and explore different aspects of the kinjo (neighborhood) with a native Japanese guide. Whether it be for first timers to Japan, foodies, pub crawls, shopping or night owls there is no better way to get your feet wet than with a native speaking guide. If nothing else, get them to show you how to understand the ramen machines!
Otsuka lies just east of Ikebukuro in a pocket of Tokyo that still carries the feel of older times. Close by the Toden tram as well as the iconic Yamanote Line that loops around the city, OMO5 offers guests a chic yet casual oasis with all the modern amenities and a lobby lounge that puts you in touch with the pulse of the city.
Our intention was to have Omo5 as our launching point for the week ahead. Our expectations were only to find a decent place to crash and get moving in the morning. However, once we began to learn more we wish we had more time. While not on the 5-6 star pilgrimage it is a perfect fit for the affluent adventure travelers not wanting to break the bank but to stay somewhere upscale and memorable. True to Hoshino style, the service is unrankable in how good it is. The facility is very comfortable, welcoming and perfectly achieves what it has set out to do.
Stay an extra day. You will learn A LOT and gain a bit of confidence for what lies ahead. Now I have a new life’s purpose: To stay in EVERY Hoshino resort!