After years of enduring some of the world's strictest border measurements, Japan is finally open to international travellers, visa-free and as close to pre-pandemic travel as ever before.
My recent research trip marked the first time I stepped foot in the country in three years, and some things in Japan will never change. Like the serene beauty of perfectly-manicured gardens and the elegance of time-honoured tea ceremonies.
But one thing that took me by surprise was all of the incredible new hotels that have opened their doors to travellers for the very first time. From sophisticated Kyoto ryokans to glitzy skyscrapers with perfect views of Tokyo, Japan's latest hotels come in all shapes and styles. Below are my top picks for the best new hotels you shouldn't miss when exploring Japan in 2023.
On the top of my list is the design-forward Azumi Setoda, the first property launched by Aman founder Adrian Zecha. Clean lines, simple furniture and materials really allow you to focus on this stunning ryokan, set in a 19th c. former home of a notable merchant family on Ikuchijima island. The hotel’s location on the island is unparalleled - you could spend all day sampling from many fine eateries and admiring the art the island is famous for, along with incredible panoramas of citrus groves, blue waters and mountains.
The property itself is a mix of minimalist chic and traditional, and the rooms are spacious and minimal - much like the Aman. Gorgeous wooden beams open up the high ceilings, and the extra large hinoki tub in my room was very welcoming after a long day of touring on e-bikes. One of my most memorable moments was sampling a course dinner at the restaurant, which was an homage to everything local in season. The proud chef even came out to describe each beautiful dish.
Zenagi offers a concept that’s never really been explored in Japan but is very popular worldwide: an all-inclusive bespoke private experience. The large Kominka space is housed in a beautiful traditional farmhouse overlooking terraced rice fields in the Kiso Valley. They have an Olympic athlete who has curated all of their experiences, from boating to hiking to paragliding. It’s a spectacular option for active travellers looking to get immersed in unspoilt nature. Bonus: it’s close to the famous Nakasendo hiking trail.
A stunning retreat away from the bustle of the city, Aman Kyoto will put you in touch with the natural beauty of Kyoto from the second you step foot on the property. Follow whimsical stone pathways and tree-lined gardens to the ryokan, seemingly hidden within fairytale woodlands. Inside you’ll find ancient Japanese design mingling with warm tones and a modern aesthetic. It’s a stone’s throw away from the golden temple, Kinkakuji, and the surrounding nature comes to life in autumn when the area is blanketed in beautiful fall foliage.
Creative, maximalist, bold and bright. Ace Kyoto is far from your traditional Japanese ryokan, which is precisely why I love it so much. Retro-inspired art and bold furnishing make each room pop with splashes of bright yellow, blue and red. And its location on Karasuma Street means you have a bounty of museums, modern cafes and restaurants to choose from, filled with young and creative locals. In 2023 the hotel will open its doors for a 10-week Noma residency, bringing cutting-edge New Nordic cuisine to Japan.
A great edition located opposite the Nijo Castle, The Mitsui highlights old-school Kyoto with a twist with its traditional Japanese tea rooms sprinkled with modern touches. After exploring Kyoto on foot, my favourite way to rejuvenate is with a visit to the hotel’s thermal spa and hot spring onsen pools for a healing bath. And if you’re feeling a bit peckish, the hotel is home to an incredible French-Japanese fusion fine dining joint and a laidback Italian eatery.
I love the Park Hyatt Kyoto for its enviable location in Kyoto’s historic Higashiyama district. This is the place to stay to be fully immersed in the city’s distinctive culture, as the Kodaiji Temple, Kiyomizu-dera Temple and the Ninen-zaka are only steps away. Don't miss visits to the Signature Restaurant and Bar for breathtaking views of the Yasaka Pagoda and family-run Kyoyamato for traditional Japanese Kaiseki cuisine.
This sky-high sanctuary marks the second Four Seasons in Japan’s buzzing capital, nestled in Otemachi, one of Tokyo's most intriguing neighbourhoods. A curious blend of ultramodern skyscrapers, tucked-away local eateries, legacy architecture and lush natural beauty are all at your doorstep, creating the perfect setting to bike, hike and feast like a local. The property soars high above the sky, offering incredible views of the Imperial Palace and the city skyline. Don't miss a visit to est, the hotel's newly-crowned Michelin-starred restaurant, serving French cuisine shaped by Japanese terroir.
This marks the first EDITION property in Japan, the latest venture by American hotelier Ian Schrager, co-founder of the legendary nightclub Studio 54 and pioneer of the concept of the "boutique hotel." The property is set high in the sky in the ultra-modern Kamiyacho district, peppered with glitzy skyscrapers and just minutes from Tokyo's best art and cultural landmarks, fashion and nightlife. I love the EDITION for its lush greenery; there are over 500 plants in the lobby alone, ivy-covered walls and playful palm trees that perfectly frame the panoramas of Tokyo's scene-stealing skyline.