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  • The Hoshinoya Kyoto brings the Edo period of nobility alive in exquisite luxury

    By Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

    Domo arigato,” I say to the taxi driver who smiles, bows twice and says “Hai. Hai.” I wheel my bag along a pathway by the Ooi river, just over the Togetsukyo bridge which is heaving with crowds of tourists who clot in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district. Some are in rent-a-kimono taking selfies, others are in school uniform, giggling and smiling, and then there’s the occasional Western tourist biting into a Miffy-shaped donut. This side of the bridge is much quieter. My quest is to find the private boat ramp for the Hoshinoya Kyoto. I see the sign just ahead, written in English and Japanese, and stop to breathe a sigh of relief. ‘No. No. This way,’ says a Japanese man with a camera hung around his neck gesturing downstream. I smile. Perhaps I should have donned a pair of Blahniks and a flowy Camilla for this journey. “You have to be a very special Japanese person to stay at the Hoshinoya,” my taxi driver confided before he dropped me off.


    Image courtesy of Hoshinoya Kyoto

    I look down at my running shoes and eye my suitcase with the tape holding together the zipper. Do I change my shoes?  Perhaps I should. Down I stoop to give the tape a tug but before I rip off the shoddy luggage band-aid, a man appears, dressed in black with gold-etched sleeves and collar. “May I take your luggage?” He ushers me to a lift in a two-storey building opposite the boat ramp. One floor up, I am met by another gold-collared staff member. The boathouse waiting room has a mini shop and a number of tables and chairs which look out to a garden. I’m brought a cold towel and a glass of water whilst the boat is readied.

    A private boat ride

    Minutes later I step onto the private wharf and into the hinoki (cedar boat). The spirit of the Edo period glides down the river with me, as I’m transported away from the matcha-ice-cream-and-ramen-slurping crowds, and into a world of ancient luxury. I gaze out across the river at maple leaves discarding their summer greens for the autumn fashions of yellow and red.

    Fifteen minutes later I arrive at a pontoon. I’m again greeted and led up a stone path winding between Japanese momiji maples to a Zen rock garden, where a girl is sitting on a rock in the middle of a pond and playing a musical instrument.  The striking sounds stir images of a time when the nobility of Japan retreated to this secluded enclave. The property was originally owned by Suminokura Ryoi, a seventeenth-century merchant who played a part in constructing the Takasegawa canal that cuts through Kyoto. Today the resort is housed in a cluster of building which date back a century.


    Image courtesy of Hoshinoya Kyoto

    The accommodation at the Hoshinoya

    My room looks out onto the Ooi River, with its backdrop of dense forest. I spot a deer prancing amongst the foliage. Inside, my room offers walls of hand printed Kyoto wallpaper and sliding, rice-paper screens. The sitting room is comparable to a traditional ryokan, with its tatami matting. In the bathroom, there’s a full-size bath: square and made of cypress; and two pouches of personally tailored herbs to add to the water, as well as a Japanese toilet to contend with. The heated seat is nice but I’m not courageous enough to find out what all the buttons are for.

    In the mud room there are two pairs of Japanese style silk pyjamas laid out for me. One is peach and for bed. The other is grey and I’m told we can wear these around the resort. Life is good because I love nothing more than lounging around in pyjamas.


    Image courtesy of Hoshinoya Kyoto

    I change into my greys and saunter up to the Salon and Bar Kura, where I’m served complimentary Japanese sweets and a drink. Four other guests sit at the table, heads down, engrossed in colouring-in.  I find myself back here after dinner, sampling some Japanese whiskey poured over a Rubix cube-sized ice block.  The Hoshinoya is a cultural mecca, with an array of activities from early morning stretch classes between moss covered stones under the drooping leaves of the maple, to making traditional incense in a tatami-matted room. Whilst there’s no dedicated spa, I’m treated to a shiatsu therapist in my room. She’s also an herbalist; she prepares for me ten little bath packs of liquid herbs to bring home. Alas, they never make it through Customs, but my dry herbs do so I’m not so disappointed.

    A private audience with a Buddhist Monk

    The staff here are polite and will go the extra mile to ensure your stay is a memorable one. Whilst there are just so many reasons to want to stay here, the highlight for me, surprisingly, was getting up at 4.45 am. I had three alarms set to ensure I wouldn’t miss my private audience with a Zen monk at the Zuiho-in, a sub temple of Daitokuji Monastery. During a five am boat ride with Mai from the front office, I hear how she loves her job and how her favourite part is when she does housekeeping, as she loves to clean. I want to smuggle her into my suitcase immediately. Mai is pleasant company.


    Image courtesy of Hoshinoya Kyoto

    We transfer together to a taxi and then on to the temple. It’s dark when we arrive. We stand at a large door, waiting for the monk to let us in. He’s 81, Mai tells me. As I’m wondering if he may have slept in, I hear a shuffling sound behind the door and then it opens to reveal a monk wearing glasses, smiling. He’s also wearing long black robes and his head is shaved. We follow him to a room in a temple, where we sit cross legged and watch him set up the altar. I am given a Buddhist book, written in English, that’s much like a hymn book or order of service book at church. Mai tells me which page to turn to, and we sit there together, belting out words in pinyin with the monk, and it’s strangely therapeutic although I have no idea what I am saying. After 45 minutes of chanting, Mai tells me it is time to meditate, so I close my eyes and listen to the sounds whilst kneeling on a mat.

    The sun has come up now and I can see through to the stone garden. When the meditation is over, Mai shows me the other stone garden and then we make our way to the tatami-matted tearoom for some matcha tea. The Buddhists have the highest quality matcha tea, and this cup is good.  After a few questions, it’s time to journey back to the Hoshinoya, with the Buddhist chant pounding pleasantly in my head. I return to the boat ramp in my Hoshinoya greys. No local tries to sway me from my path so perhaps I’m starting to look like I belong within the ranks of Japanese nobility.


    Image courtesy of Hoshinoya Kyoto

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