Hotel Review: A First Look At Aman Kyoto, The Luxury Brand's Newest Property In Japan
Tatler checks into Aman Hotels & Resorts' third hotel in Japan and discovers another side of Kyoto
If you want to get a deeper understanding of Japan, then a visit to Kyoto is mandatory. As the country's ancient capital and centre of Japanese aristocracy, Kyoto is known for its countless shrines, beautiful gardens as well as charming alleys lined with machiyas (traditional Japanese shop houses). But did you know that Kyoto also boasts a stunning landscape?
Perhaps it's difficult to see the natural riches when you're traversing the city on foot, weaving through the majestic temples and stylish cafes and boutiques. Given the destination's popularity, it can be difficult to find your zen in central Kyoto, but we've found just the spot: Aman Kyoto.
A mere 15-minute walk from the famous golden Kinkakuji temple, Aman Kyoto offers travellers a different side of the city, an oasis made for mindful travellers. On November 1, Aman's highly anticipated third property in Japan, which is hidden away in a secret garden at the foot of the Mountain of Hidari Daimonji, finally opens its doors. The 80-acre property in the Takagamine district is steeped in culture and heritage, and as we've discovered, offers a unique insight to the city. Here's what we experienced during our sneak peek.
My car arrived at the hotel just before sunset and I was welcomed by eight people (yes, I counted), each wearing a uniform that's a modern rendition of a Japanese kimono. After a swift check-in, the staff guided me to my room and journey there was more interesting than the usual stroll down a hallway. We walked through a path paved with large stones culled from famous stone-producing areas in Japan—a design detail left by the previous owner.
The forested grounds where Aman Kyoto sits is part of an artistic community that gave rise to the historic Rinpa school of painting in 17th century Kyoto. The eight acres of manicured gardens—tended over many decades—belonged to one of Japan’s most respected collectors of the obi (the ornamental sash of a traditional Japanese kimono), who had originally planned to build a textile museum within the garden for his collection.
Lined with towering trees, Aman consciously retains the feeling of being immersed in nature. The few trees they did cut as part of the development were transformed into plates, room tags, and more—following the brand's ethos of championing what's local and sustainable as well as their efforts not to alter the natural surroundings. Unlike other carefully manicured Japanese gardens, the trees within the property appear as they originally are, expressing the untouched beauty of Japan.
Do Not Disturb
Aman is an expert at making sure every detail counts, right down to their guestrooms' keyrings. Mine had a wooden tag with the word "kaede", which means maple tree in Japanese. It is, in fact, made from the actual maple tree which used to stand in the place the room was built.
My room is located on the second floor of the maisonette, and only two rooms use the same entrance, creating a feeling of staying in a traditional machiya. Designed by Kerry Hill Architects—the firm behind Aman's two other hotels in Japan, Aman Tokyo and Amanemu—the look of this particular hotel was inspired by the kosi wooden fence, traditionally found at the exterior of a machiya. This detail is cleverly incorporated in the interiors of the suites and shared spaces.
The interior is a tribute to Japanese minimalism, where less is definitely more. Everything is hidden away behind a wooden panel, and the staff opened it to reveal a TV, tea set, fridge, wardrobe, and even a spacious bathroom. It's almost like opening a magical box.
What really stood out, however, was the aroma of wood permeating the suite. The bedroom floor, which is covered with the finest tatami, felt like soft grass underfoot and altogether heightened the connection with nature. For some reason, I really felt like I was doing shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) when I was in fact indoors. I suppose you could do a version of forest bathing right inside the suite—if you open the panel between the bedroom and the bathroom, you can soak in 1.7-metre long bathtub crafted from hinoki wood and enjoy the verdant scenery through the floor-to-ceiling windows. To top it off, all the bathroom amenities are also made with the scent of hinoki.
Focusing on taking deep breaths is integral to the whole wellness idea of Aman. "The importance of taking deep breaths is widely known in the wellness field. Recently, I spoke to a Tibetan monk and he told me the secret to longevity is taking deep breaths," says Yuki Kiyono, Group Director of Aman Spa. With the clean mountain air ready to inhale, the spa session began with the therapist asking me to take deep breaths of their aromatic oils made with local plants such as Uji tea leaves, Kitayama cedar, and ginger.
The massage oil was crafted from osmanthus flowers, which were also found within the property, and the massage style was a mixture of Japanese “shiatsu” and Western massage techniques, offering the best of both worlds. "Western massages usually involve pushes towards the centre of the body, but shiatsu is all about pushing outwards," shared Hiroko Suzuki, my therapist.
The spa experience is punctuated with tea, and I was served a lovely cup of genmaicha (brown puffed rice) tea after my massage. One of the other highlights of the wellness offering is the spacious onsen. Located right next to the spa, it is fitted with a rotenburo, an outdoor hot spring surrounded by huge stones creating a peaceful atmosphere ideal for meditation.
Food & Drink
If you find the name Kentaro Torii familiar, you'd be right. Formerly the executive chef of Forlino, an Italian restaurant with an amazing view of Marina Bay Sands, Torii currently leads the entire culinary team at Aman Kyoto. “Land to Table” is his ethos, and he aims to use as much local produce as possible. "Having been in Kyoto since May, I've met a lot of passionate producers. This local concept matches the Italian concept of campanilismo, which means love to the local region," shared Torii.
Aman Kyoto offers both Japanese and Western breakfast, and should you go for the former, you will enjoy freshly cooked rice served with yudofu (warm tofu), handmade by a producer who lives nearby. The rice is organically grown and is from an old species called Kyoto Asahi Ichigo.
As an Italian-trained chef, Torii has also conceived of another way to appreciate the rice. “This rice keeps firm even after cooking, so it is best to cook as risotto," he said. So he cooked rice together with chestnuts picked up around the property's grounds and served it with mushroom broth made from local mushrooms. At the table side, he sliced seasonal truffles; as the broth warms up the truffle, it made the dish even more aromatic.
In its effort to keep the property as natural as possible, lighting can be pretty dim around the Aman Kyoto grounds. We highly recommend checking in before dark and to bring a torchlight (found inside the amenity box below the bathroom basin) when you do walk around the property during the evenings. The staff are also more than happy to guide you to your destination. In addition, bring comfortable shoes as the paths are paved with natural stones, so you can explore the eight acres of forested grounds with ease.
When in Kyoto, kaiseki is in order, so don't miss an experience at Taka-an restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner. Led by Chef Mita, who had worked for Kitcho restaurant for 20 years, he makes owan (Japanese clear soup) with his own twist.
The best season to stay is from mid-November to early December given the place has plenty of maple trees meaning you can expect to see autumn leaves during that season. There are also cherry blossom trees on the grounds so it's no surprise that hotel is already fully booked for several days during sakura season in April next year.
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