Although one might not think that Japan is the go-to tourist destination in Asia when compared to their southeastern neighbors, the land of the rising sun has much more in store for potential visitors than one might assume. The incredibly rich history, dating back millennia, would be reason enough to include the island nation on your itinerary, but that’s not all contemporary Japan has to offer.
The megalopolis of Tokyo alone has a vast array of modern luxury accommodation, while the forest ryokans make for ideal retreats and will ensure respite from the urban jungle, as well as provide ample opportunity to soak in the local culture.
The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo
Located in one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo, the Ritz-Carlton occupies the 45th-53rd floors of the sky-high Midtown Tower. Its prime location makes it perfect for business and leisure travelers alike. The nearby Roppongi district is brimming with nightclubs, bars, designer fashion boutiques, while the Mori Art Museum and the National Art Center exhibit international masterpieces. The Tokyo Midtown is also a great shopping destination.
The interior of the glass tower is as chic as its exterior. On the ground floor, there’s a small lobby with exquisite floral arrangements, but other than that, everything is on the 45th floor. The actual lobby, once you get up there, is as vast as any with high ceilings, marble floors, and a cozy lounge area and bar.
The rooms and suites are posh, but nothing too over-the-top. Amenities include flat-screen TVs, a safe, a minibar, air conditioning, and complimentary bathrobes. All of the rooms and suites also include free wi-fi. All of the rooms provide incredible views of the Tokyo skyline that you can enjoy while sipping coffee from the excellent Nespresso machines.
If you’re looking for a quick endorphin rush, hit the incredibly well-equipped gym/fitness center, or if you prefer swimming, there’s an awesome adult swimming pool. The Ritz-Carlton also provides bicycle rentals and concierge services upon request. It goes without saying that at a hotel of this stature, especially in Tokyo, the staff’s attentiveness and friendliness is unlike any other.
The go-to place for dinner would definitely be the Michelin-starred Azure 45 where you can enjoy delicious and equally visually pleasing French delicacies while enjoying the vistas from the 45th floor. Other options include Towers, which is a grill restaurant, Hinokizaka, serving traditional Japanese cuisine, or La Boutique, if you feel like sampling some of the best pastry in Tokyo. The Lobby Lounge, the Bar, and the Ritz-Carlton Cafe & Deli provide delicious drinks and we suggest trying their afternoon tea, the exotic cocktails, and specialty coffees respectively.
Prices for double rooms start at $475.
Mandarin Oriental Tokyo
Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is located in what they boast to be the birthplace of modern Tokyo. The Nihonbashi neighborhood is immensely vibrant, including shopping centers, restaurants, as well as some historical landmarks such as the Fukutoku Shrine. Even though it’s about 15 minutes away (by car) from our previous suggestion, we’d be splitting hairs if we tried to compare the two. Nevertheless, Mandarin Oriental provides a unique ambiance and is too good of a hotel not to be included in this list.
The interior of the Mandarin Oriental is somewhat minimalistic, although there are noteworthy Japanese touches throughout, making the design equally contemporary and traditional in terms of decor. Most of the rooms and suites have floor-to-ceiling windows from which you can enjoy sweeping vistas of the Tokyo skyline or Mount Fuji in the distance.
Room amenities include minibars, safes, free wi-fi, flat-screen TVs, coffee and tea making machines, complimentary terrycloth robes and yoga mats, and much more. The bathrooms are commodious, featuring walk-in showers and soaking tubs, complimentary toiletries, and hairdryers.
In terms of facilities, the hotel has all bases covered, although the lack of a swimming pool might prove to be off-putting. The gym is equipped with all sorts of workout machines, the spa center with its treatment rooms and lounges is definitely well worth the visit, while dry saunas and steam rooms ensure utmost rejuvenation.
If you have a developed taste for gourmet cuisine, you ought to pay a visit to the Michelin-starred Signature, while the more easy-going Pizza Bar on the 38th floor is pretty self-explanatory. Other fine-dining options include the Michelin-starred Sense, serving Cantonese, and the Tapas Molecular Bar, which focuses on molecular food preparation.
Deluxe rooms start at $360, while the suites go all the way up to $1800.
The first ryokan (or ‘traditional inn) on our list has to be Beniya Mukayu. Located on the scenic Yakushiyama foothills, this hot spring lodge exists for the sole purpose of sensory bliss of its visitors. From the incredibly attentive staff, to the zen environment, and the incredible blend of Japanese culture with contemporary luxury, this establishment is probably the archetype of what a modern ryokan should be. It’s also worth mentioning that the lodge is part of the illustrious Relais & Châteaux hotel association.
The words of the famous Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi – “An empty room will be filled with light because of its emptiness.” – were definitely taken to heart when designing the 16 exclusive rooms (including eight suites) of the lodge. In terms of luxury accommodation, “less is more” never seems to be the case, yet Beniya Mukayu somehow manages to pull it off. The bamboo floors and neutral-hued walls blend in perfectly with the surrounding nature, while tatami mats, rattan chairs overlooking the garden, and private open-air onsens (hot-spring bath) further the zen experience.
Amenities such as TVs, minibars, as well as complimentary bathrobes, kimonos, slippers, and signature Yakushiyama bath products, are also included. The local gardens are a sight to behold, while facilities such as the Entei spa, the library, and the boutique add the necessary variety should you get too restless.
The Kaiseki Horin fine dining room offers seasonal cuisine prepared with the freshest ingredients. Although, it’s worth noting that the food options also stay true to the complete traditional experience since the menu is mostly Japanese dishes. Summer specialties include sashimi flounder and shrimp, while during the winter, turnip soup and char-grilled snow crab are their pièce de résistance.
Depending on the season, prices usually start at $725 for a double room.
St Regis Osaka
The third-largest city in Japan, which is also an important economic hub in the region, is home to one of the most impressive hotels by the St. Regis chain. The St. Regis Osaka is ideal for business travelers as it’s located on the bustling Mido-suji Avenue, the lifeline of Osaka’s business district. Leisure travelers also won’t be disappointed as access to Shinsaibashi-suji, the entertainment & shopping heart and soul of the city, is also nearby.
The hotel is designed by the renowned Japanese engineering company, Nikken Sekkei, who definitely made it their utmost priority to make the hotel as contemporary as possible without being too “on the nose”. The ground floor lobby features a charming crystal tree, while the main lobby on the 12th floor has several comfortable lounges as well as a zen garden. The high ceilings throughout the hotel give it a special sort of airiness that you’d forget you’re in the middle of a very dynamic city area.
The 160 luxurious rooms and suites are well thought-out and there isn’t too big of a variety in terms of style from one option to the other. In fact, the same stylish vibe permeates throughout the whole hotel, but, as one would expect, the suites are spacious enough to be your home away from home. The Osaka skyline gets ever more breathtaking the higher up you book – the suites go all the way up to the 27th story.
As one would expect from the St. Regis brand, amenities are aplenty. Rooms feature queen and king size beds depending on your booking, walk-in closets, tea and coffee making machines, writing desks, vanity desks, and sitting areas overlooking the skyline. The bathrooms are as commodious as any with the most exclusive Remède toiletries, rainforest showers, and tubs with LCD TVs. There’s free wi-fi throughout the hotel.
Although St. Regis Osaka doesn’t have a swimming pool, their treatment rooms in the spa center provide a once in a lifetime regenerating experience that will certainly help you relax after a long day of work.
St Regis Osaka has two amazing restaurants. If you’re craving some authentic Italian grill, head over to La Veduta, conveniently located next to the St. Regis Bar on the 12th floor. The other option is the Rue D’or, which also doubles as a bistro with reasonably priced food and drinks, but offering upscale French cuisine as well.
Double room rates start at $560 depending on the season, although it’s worth noting that the hotel charges differently for single and double occupancy.
If you’re looking for a ryokan experience, but you wouldn’t relinquish all the modern comforts of luxury accommodation, then you probably have no better option than Amanemu. Located on the idyllic shores of Ago Bay, Amanemu is the best luxury resort in Ise Shima National Park. Despite being relatively remote, it’s easily accessible thanks to Japan’s highly developed high-speed rail network.
The architecture of the resort represents a contemporary take on the traditional Japanese Minka style of buildings. All 24 resorts and the two exclusive villas are characterized by simplicity in design and cedar walls. The interior is equally minimalistic, brandished by wooden panels and floorboards, providing a zen-like vibe in line with the lush surrounding nature.
The suites feature king-size beds, dining areas, views of the bay or the surrounding gardens, and private onsens (hot-spring baths). Speaking of, the bathrooms are remarkable, having basalt stone tiles, rainforest showers, double sinks, and a huge bathtub.
The resort also has a common outdoor Aman Spa, which is spread over a whopping 2000 sq m (or 21.500 sq ft). The freshwater infinity pool is also a sight to behold, providing panoramic views of the whole resort. Amanemu allows their guests to use complimentary bikes if they feel like exploring the landscape.
The single restaurant on the resort has a rich menu of delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner options from both Western and Japanese cuisine. Since the restaurant makes a point out of using only the freshest of ingredients, the menu changes depending on the available produce. Understandably, this may prove to be a turn-off for some, but the personalized, curated options based on the concept of “omakase” more than make up for it.
Prices for suites start at $1300 depending on the season.
As the owners themselves would put it, the only word that can describe HOSHINOYA is ‘yugen – immeasurable depth’; and rightfully so. If you share our admiration for the inn-like luxury resorts in the scenic forests of Japan, then this paradise on earth in Kyoto is yet another one on this list that doesn’t fail to amaze by any stretch of the imagination. The resort itself is accessible only by boat along the Oi River and the trip is an experience unto itself.
Although the original buildings are about a century old, due to the unparalleled maintenance efforts the resort manages to retain the atmospheric vibe of Japanese architecture, which can best be described as one with nature. The interior, also designed by renowned architect Rie Azuma, oozes minimalist elegance, characterized by peculiar sliding screens instead of doors, lanterns, and handcrafted traditional wallpapers.
Each of the 25 rooms has their own unique outlook, but the common traditional theme is typified by bamboo seating areas, low platformed beds, and exotic yet unobtrusive decor. The bathrooms feature deep soaking tubs made of wood whose water is infused with herbs for an absolutely relaxing experience.
Even though wi-fi is available throughout the resort, HOSHINOYA prides itself upon being a ‘digital detox’ accommodation, lacking any technological entertainment options, such as TVs. Facilities that further this attitude are readily available, such as an extensive library & lounge and a “Floating Tea Room”. The drawback that would put it behind some other ryokan-like accommodation options is the lack of a dedicated spa center, but the magnificent Senkoji Temple nearby more than makes up for it and is well worth the 15-minute hike.
Seasonal Japanese cuisine, but also certain Western options that may or may not be available depending on the season, are prepared by executive chef Ichiro Kubota, whose takes on traditional cuisine impress even the most critical of high-end travelers. Nearby restaurants include the Michelin-starred Kyoto Kitcho Arashiyama and the Old Hong Kong Kyoto restaurant, which adds variety to your dining options.
Nightly rates during low season can go as low as $975.
Hyatt Regency Kyoto
Hyatt Regency Kyoto is yet another Kyoto hotel par excellence, and although this option is located in more of an urban environment, the traditional Japanese vibes seem to be omnipresent in this city. The location is ideal, providing downtown access within a 30-minute walk and the Kyoto railway station is 15 minutes away.
That being said, save for the bamboo gardens, the hotel is anything but traditional. The style of the hotel leans much more toward the modern side, but features such as sliding screens and floral artwork still serve as a reminder of the local culture.
The 187 guestrooms provide a window to Kyoto’s history in terms of stylistic approach, while having all the necessary amenities such as free wi-fi throughout the hotel, De’Longhi coffee machines, flat-screen TVs, minibars, and complimentary bathrobes and toiletries. The commodious bathrooms have granite floors, a shower, and a bathtub. The incomparable room and concierge service staff are quite literally there to fulfill your every need or whim, being incredibly friendly and attentive.
For authentic Japanese cuisine, visit the in-house Touzan restaurant, serving all sorts of local dishes. Trattoria Sette is the go-to place for Italian cuisine, serving lunch and dinner, while The Grill would be your main option for cafe cuisine, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Double rooms at Hyatt Regency Kyoto start at about $320 in low season.
Located on a serene mountainside in Hakone, KAI Sengokuhara is the retreat for art tourists. No other ryokan comes even close to this establishment when it comes to modern style and tasteful artsy decor.
It might come as baffling, but the hotel is located a mere 2-hour drive away from the center of neon-buzzing Tokyo. Nearby sights include the Hakone Open Air Museum, the POLA Museum, the Okada Museum of Art, and if you’re feeling extra adventuruous, Mount Fuji is another 80 minutes away by car.
All of the rooms and suites have their own private outdoor baths, just like any other onsen accommodation. What sets KAI Sengokuhara apart though, is their thoughtful inclusion of bedazzling artwork in each and every room, as well as high-end furnishings. Amenities include their own brand luxury mattresses, 100% flax yukata kimonos, safes, fridges, TVs, air purifiers, and much more. The bathrooms have toilets with bidet functions and rainforest shower booths.
Although there is no spa center, the hotel offers Shiatsu massages and boasts a soak-with-a-view communal onsen bath. Art being a focal point, the hotel also occasionally organizes creative workshops on the premises, while modern artwork is all-pervasive throughout the hotel.
In terms of dining options, the in-house restaurant serves only Japanese cuisine, which might be dissatisfactory for some; no western alternatives are available within the hotel. Although, all of the multi-course meals are prepared with great care and fresh ingredients. Dinners include seasonal kaiseki dishes, while for breakfast you get to enjoy their centerpiece – soft grilled jinenjo yam.
Rooms for two start at $630 in low season.
Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan
When it comes to onsen accommodation in northern Japan, and particularly Hokkaido, the Zaborin ryokan is, for lack of a better word, unparalleled. The winter resort town of Niseko is without a doubt the most popular destination for skiing. The surrounding Hanazono Forest and the nearby Mount Yōtei volcano create an atmosphere unlike any other. As one would expect, such scenery is relatively remote as the closest city is Sapporo, a two-hour drive away.
The 15 separate villas are refined and elegant, with floor to ceiling windows, arranged around a small forest and public onsen. Each suite has its private indoor and outdoor onsen too, while the two accommodation types are “Washitsu” and “Yoshitsu” – the only difference being Japanese futons or Western-style beds, respectively. Bathrooms have rain showers and feature custom-made toiletries.
Zaborin, unlike some other options on this list, also has a proper swimming pool and a spa. For further relaxation, guests can visit the library, which has best-sellers and films to take back to the suite. The bar offers amazing views of the volcano mountain, while the free shuttle service offers daily drives to Niseko should you get restless.
As is the norm with Japanese ryokans, the cuisine is traditional with signature multiple-course Kita Kaiseki meals. The breakfast menu offers western alternatives as well, while dinner options include the exclusive teppan-kaiseki entrée consisting of Japanese beef, among other things.
Prices at Zaborin start at $1360 per night.
Amane Resort Seikai
Amane Resort Seikai made our list as one of the best seaside resorts in southern Japan. Located in the panoramic Beppu Bay, Seikai will probably be your go-to option if you happen to be in northeastern Kyushu. Its central location allows easy access to Oita Airport, Jigoku-meguri hot springs, Umitamago Aquarium, all being less than an hour’s drive away, while the Beppu Station is 15 minutes away by car.
Floorboards and stylish furnishings make for an easy-going atmosphere throughout the hotel, while all 14 types of rooms feature open-air baths and picturesque views of the bay. Amenities include bespoke Simmons beds, free wi-fi in public areas, complimentary towels, hairdryers, toiletries.
Apart from the private open-air baths, there are also public open-air and indoor hot spring baths with healing properties. The spa & beauty salon offers rejuvenating treatments, including aromatherapy and massages, while the souvenir store will surely have some sort of keepsake to commemorate your trip.
There are three unique restaurants on the resort, each of them offering something special in terms of gourmet cuisine. Eitarou offers fresh seafood delicacies, Bistro Van Nuovo is the Italian on-site bistro, and Gen offers seasonal Japanese kaiseki cuisine.
Double rooms start at $360 in low season.