Though Kyoto hasn’t been Japan’s imperial seat for over 150 years, it remains one of the best places to glimpse the country’s ancient soul. By day, visitors and pilgrims flock to the Higashiyama district, which sits just beneath the mountains on the eastern side of the city, for its temples and teahouses. Particularly charming is Ninenzaka Street, a sloping lane lined with machiya — centuries-old dwellings with clay roof tiles and latticed wood doors — and the new 70-room Park Hyatt Kyoto, which is situated between the street and an Edo-era temple. The hotel group might be famous for the three-towered skyscraper housing its Tokyo location, but here you’ll find a low-ceilinged, tile-roofed arrival house, as well as airy guest rooms with tamo wood floors and windows for walls. “It was important for us not to compete with the rich history of Kyoto but to bring some of it indoors,” says the general manager, Mark De Leeuwerk. Throughout the property are artworks and design elements by local craftspeople, including gold-leaf trim done by a 106-year-old artisan and, in the hotel bistro, earthenware by a 16th-generation potter. Another restaurant, Yasaka, offers heartier fare, from grilled shrimp to savory pancakes, prepared on the traditional steel hot plates known as teppan.
Next month, the Park Hyatt will expand further with a resort in Niseko, a ski destination on Japan’s northern Hokkaido island where, in addition to hillside suites, visitors can enjoy a soak in the onsen and local delicacies like snow crab. This is a place where instead of anticipating cherry blossom season, people pray for more snow, and yet the warmer seasons afford hiking, canoeing and flower picking.
By Artie Niederhoffer