“Secrets are meant to be found out with time,” former Bankers Trust CEO Charles Sandford once said. And while he wasn’t referring to Japan’s newest luxury hotel when he said it, he might as well have been.
Perched on 80 acres of land in a once-forgotten secret garden at the bottom of Japan’s Hidari Daimonji mountain, Aman’s latest five-star resort, the Aman Kyoto, quietly opened in early November. Designed by Kerry Hill Architects, the hotel’s 26 minimalistic guest rooms—which start at roughly $1,100 a night—were inspired by traditional Japanese inns, with floor-to-ceiling views of the grounds. Each room features tatami floor mats, Ofuro soaking tubs made from local wood, and a neutral color scheme. And all of Aman Kyoto’s furniture is bespoke and exclusive to the resort, according to the company.
Aman Kyoto is the luxury hotel group’s third location in Japan, following the introduction of Aman Tokyo in 2014 and Amenumu two years later. But where Aman Tokyo offers a sleek escape atop the Otemachi Tower among Tokyo’s bustling urban sprawl, and Amenumu is a hot springs resort in the country’s renowned Ise-Shima National Park, Aman Kyoto aims to be a quiet and relaxing sanctuary, hidden among moss-covered pathways, boulders, and trees.
“The success of Aman Tokyo and Amanemu provided the ideal springboard from which to continue our journey through Japan, offering an insight into Japanese culture and tradition through the eyes of Aman, a brand that has been wholly influenced by the Japanese hospitality and aesthetic,” explains Aman chief operating officer Roland Fasel. “The site, too, is ideal for us as it perfectly tempers privacy, relaxation and rejuvenation in an exquisite setting and makes for an ideal stop during a journey through the country.”
Indeed, while Aman Kyoto is intended as a secluded retreat, it’s also a quick drive from the center of Kyoto and a stroll away from local landmarks, including the Kinkakuji Temple, a Zen temple whose top two floors are sheathed in gold leaf. Aman also offers tours that explore nearby teahouses to ancient temples, most with verdant gardens of their own. Guests also have easy access to any one of 17 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (Unesco) World Heritage Sites—a landmark or area picked by Unesco for having cultural, historical or scientific significance—offers travelers the opportunity to immerse themselves in experiences like learning the ancient seventh-century art of ikebana flower arrangement or harvesting tea in a historic plantation.
Building Aman Kyoto, however, was anything but a straightforward affair. According to Fasel, the hotel was 20 years in the making, with rounds and rounds of government approvals required before construction could begin. Among the government’s concerns: preservation of the natural landscape.
“Over the last two years, the garden was protected in every way possible during the construction of Aman Kyoto’s freestanding pavilions—each a subtle and complementary addition to the landscape,” Fasel adds. “Even the Sunagoke moss on the footpaths was preserved through the laying of raised metal walkways.”
Taka-an, the resort’s restaurant, specializes in serving home-cooked obanzai cuisine—a traditional style of Japanese cuisine focused largely on seafood and vegetables—made with local produce. Dishes are served omakase-style, in which executive chef Kentaro Torii sets an ever-changing menu based on the day’s prime ingredients. (One example from a menu this month: seasoned rice with matsutake mushrooms in a clay pot.) Guests seeking a change of scenery for the meals can pick up a bamboo picnic basket to dine outside in the surrounding gardens and forest.
The Aman Spa houses three indoor treatment suites, a relaxation lounge, and the traditional onsen (a Japanese hot spring) with baths using water from the local spring. Treatments highlight Japanese massage styles including Anma and shiatsu, using different massage strokes and techniques to achieve total relaxation, as well as acupuncture and reflexology. The spa also infuses treatments with local Japanese ingredients, including cold-pressed camellia oil, green tea, and sake.
Every spa treatment starts with a foot ritual dating back to the 16th century, when ryokan inns offered the practice to tired travelers. Aman Kyoto’s spa has updated the practice somewhat, to include 24-carat gold leaf, sake, a rice bran called Azuki, and natural sea salt from the Sea of Japan. Aman Kyoto also offers “mindfulness” sessions focused on meditation, including yoga classes and Shinrin-yoku, the healing art of forest bathing or “taking in the forest atmosphere.”
If that doesn’t relax guests, what will?
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