Nov 26, 2021
ARTIST KAZUYA YAMAGUCHI IS eyeing my technique. Moments before, I pounded bark from a mulberry tree with a mallet and now, in an attempt to make washi paper, I’m sieving the pulp through a mesh frame. “Don’t shake,” he cautions. “Don’t try to even it out.” He reminds me that its beauty comes from its irregularity.
Yamaguchi is one of several artists offering experiences that are tied to the land of the new ROKU KYOTO resort, Hilton’s first LXR Hotels & Resorts property in Asia Pacific. The 114-room resort, which opened in the foothills of the Takagamine Mountains in Kyoto this September, draws on a history that extends much further back. More than 400 years ago, this was the place of an artists’ village where craftsmen from various traditions came together.
It was here that the Rinpa style of painting was born. Modern interpretations of this Japanese artform can be found throughout the grounds, from the paintings in the lobby to the plating in the restaurant. LXR Hotels and the team behind ROKU KYOTO wanted the property to reflect its history. Hawaiian-born, Japanese-lineage, Bangkok-based architect Clint Nagata, therefore, was a brilliant choice. His BLINK Design Group specializes in crafting luxury hotels with a contemporary and exploratory aesthetic interpretation of the Asian cultures in which they’re located.
At ROKU KYOTO, each area has a subtle touch of one of the styles from the original village. Lacquerware is featured in the tea house and lobby, ceramics is the theme in the wellness spaces, bamboo creations are one of the highlights in the restaurant, and traditional paper is presented in the guest rooms in the form of patterned paneling.
This connection is also apparent through the experiences they offer guests. The water I use to make washi is from the Tenjin River, which flows alongside the property. Centuries prior, papermakers used to ply their trade along this waterway.
There’s a relationship between both the history and the natural environment here. The overall design of the public spaces is reminiscent of local shrines, with high-pitched tiered ceilings, grand wooden pillars, and a calming flow between spaces. Ancient kitayama (a kind of Japanese cedar) trees are the first thing I see upon arrival, pruned meticulously to reach skyward. This distinct kind of cedar adorns platforms on an expansive reflective pool that sits at the property’s heart, mirroring the mountain range behind. The garden areas are awash with plants from the surrounding forest. Red pine, maple, cherry blossoms, and cedar are just a few creating the foliage.
The Garden Deluxe room, where I stay, features its own private yard of trees and stones framed by high walls. I enjoy the view from a deep onsen bath. The kind of natural hot spring water Japan is famous for flows to this room type only.
The same water that fills my bath can be enjoyed in the resort’s thermal pool. The 25-meter-long onsen pool hovers at a temperature of 37 degrees in fall, but that temperature changes with the season. Unlike traditional onsen where bathing suits aren’t allowed and people keep their voices to a whisper, here families enjoy the water with kids splashing around while their parents rest to the side. Although the onsen pool is a huge draw, the resort’s calming, cave-like thermal room (sauna) was one of the places I enjoyed most.
Guests can also soak in the onsen waters in THE ROKU SPA’s twin room, where a huge tub sits between daybeds. The spa has three rooms where they carry out therapies around the theme of “Kyoto Elements.” Their signature spa experiences draw on knowledge of Ayurvedic doshas, which classifies people by the natural elements of air, space, fire, water and earth, and works to balance them.
The Tenjin River also plays a role here. Their signature Tenjingawa Stone Massage uses stones that have been soaked in the river prior to the treatment. My spa therapist tells me this process channels the energy of the water and mountains into the stones. Washi paper makes an appearance here, too. The therapy begins with a purification ritual where I throw cedar-scented kirinusa (thinly cut paper) over my shoulder as a way to “let go of things within.”
The restaurant pays homage to the heritage with the chef’s table feast “Rinpa Reflection,” a 10-course meal at the property’s all-day dining restaurant TENJIN. Head chef Akira Taniguchi uses both plating and the plates themselves to honor the theme. During the two-hour meal he glides between the open kitchen counter and where we sit, placing the final touches on dishes before us: shaving truffles onto a creamy risotto or adding foam for a bit of flair. The typical menu includes dishes like yuba wrapped lobster, but the chef was able to offer a full vegetarian set upon request. For me, even on the regular menu, the star of the feast is the dish “Vegetable Garden,” an array of herbs, edible flowers, and vegetables that are a nod to a famous, nearby Edo period herbal garden.
ROKU KYOTO’s unique story and focus on local immersive experiences — from dining to artisans — are pillars of the brand behind it. “LXR and luxury travel itself is really going more in the direction of experiential travel,” said Nils-Arne Schroeder, Vice President of Luxury & Lifestyle, Asia Pacific, Hilton.
Schroeder reminds me it’s the memories of our experiences when we travel that really stay with us, more so than the bed we sleep in while we’re away. At ROKU KYOTO they get both right.
lxrhotels.hiltonbusinessonline.com/lxr/roku-kyoto; doubles from ¥130,000 net including breakfast
All photos courtesy of ROKU KYOTO, LXR Hotels and Resorts, except as noted