THE MITSUI, KYOTO
For more than two centuries, the gate here – with its curved kawara tiles and solid wood frame – marked the entrance of the Kyoto base of the Mitsui family, the powerful clan behind a vast network of corporations. The residence opposite Nijo Castle fell out of their hands in 1945 – but, in a fateful twist, their real-estate company snapped up the land in 2015. In 2020, the gate once again leads to a Mitsui-owned property. The hotel is keen to make its mark as Japanese-owned, but it was Hong Kong designer André Fu who masterminded the 161 muted bedrooms in shades of light green and pale birch, and created the dramatic lobby with its red-clay sculpture by Yukiya Izumita. The building wraps around a reinterpretation of the family’s original ‘stroll garden’, with flowing water and a sakura cherry tree (straw-wrapped for winter).
There’s an Italian restaurant but Toki is the highlight – at its teppan counter chef Tetsuya Asano rustles up French fine dining with a dash of Japan in dishes such as sweet potato en croûte and smoked salmon marinated in white miso. Out in the grounds, a room recreates part of the original house with woodwork, aromatic tatami and painted panels, while down in the softly lit basement, the spa has expansive hot-spring baths. There are countless signs of Kyoto-style attention to detail, from parking cones encased in bamboo to insider experiences including afternoon tea at Shimogamo Villa, another Mitsui family jewel. Not to forget that gate – immaculately restored by artisans, and impossible to miss. Danielle Demetriou
HOTEL LOG, ONOMICHI
The outside of this place, whose name is an acronym for Lantern Onomichi Garden, may not grab anyone’s attention. Set in the Shinmichi complex, built in 1963 on the slopes of Mount Senkoji overlooking the Seto Sea, the white-and-peach apartment building looks unremarkable. But inside it has been transformed into an arty six-room hotel via the wild but disciplined design of architect Bijoy Jain from Studio Mumbai. For his first project outside India, Jain covered every inch of the bedroom walls, floors and ceilings with gleaming-white washi paper; the cocoon effect is deepened by a scarcity of furnishings. Staying in one of these large spartan spaces is rather like sleeping in an art installation. But