Hoshinoya Karuizawa, Japan – Hotel Review
As a historian, I find the concept of alternate histories fascinating. Here’s one to ponder: what if Japan had modernized with limited Western influences? What would that Japan look like today?
When the creators of the Hoshinoya resort in Karuizawa imagined this scenario, their response was to create a 21st-century resort and spa in the manner of a ryokan ((旅館), a traditional Japanese inn, but one that reflects an alternate path of history. It isn’t that modern Western conveniences are scorned (we are not, after all, in Amish country); rather, they are few in number and discrete. (For example, there are no televisions in the rooms, but there is a cable for wired Internet access.)
(Ryokans opened to serve travelers along Japan’s highways, but today most are away from the cities, in more remote areas, in the mountains, or by the sea.)
Upon arrival from the train station (the hotel provided a shuttle), I was graciously welcomed and offered tea. While I sat sipping it, a staff member played a unique set of homemade instruments. The music was so enchanting that I was disappointed when it was time to go to my room.
My Mizunami Villa was riverside — indeed, mizunami means “water wave”– and the balcony extended above the river, giving me an incredible view of the flowing waters. Shortly before dusk, hotel staff floats Japanese lanterns on the river (see the Virtual Tour section on the last page of this article), adding to the beauty.
I was driven to the room in one of the many small cars the hotel uses on the property. (I later found out that the hotel will soon add electric vehicles to its fleet.) I was issued my leisurewear, a choice of yukata, which is a casual kimono, or samue, which is the work clothing of Japanese Buddhist monks. I decided to don the samue during my stay and only resorted to civilian clothes for dinner at the hotel’s gourmet French restaurant, the Bleston Court Yukawatan. I also received slippers, tabi (Japanese socks), and geta (Japanese wooden clogs) to complete the look.
Guests can remove their shoes and put on comfortable sandals in the anteroom. I had mentioned to one of the staff that I prefer to sit down when taking my shoes off and putting them on, and a stool was swiftly dispatched to my room.
The bedroom had two large beds on a wooden platform, a bathroom (more on this in a moment), a Japanese-style living room (overlooking the water), and of course, the terrace. The living room was raised, but the floor in the center was sunken to allow for the table and plenty of legroom.
The beds were supremely comfortable, with very high-quality linens. Between the bed and the sound of the river nearby, I slept peacefully and awakened each morning ready for a full day of activities at the resort.
Fresh apples had been placed on the edge of the bathroom’s deep-soaking tub in case I wanted to prepare an apple bath to soak in. The adjacent handheld shower was easy to adjust. A separate water closet had a commode and sink.