Japan Luxury Trends for 2010March 9, 2010 By: Luxury Travel Advisor
Three trends garnered the most buzz at the 2010 Japan Luxury Travel Forum, held in late February at the Hyatt Regency in Kyoto. The first came from an American led organization, Iori, known over the last decade for its arts intensive programs designed for international travelers. Over the past two years, the Iori team has set its sights on converting historic merchant townhouses, called “machiya”. Led by Alex Kerr, author of several award-winning books about Japanese culture, Iori has completed renovations on ten machiya in the toniest neighborhoods of Kyoto, saving them from demolition and reconstituting them with just enough modern bells and whistles for international, sophisticated travelers. I stayed in one, and having traveled to Kyoto before, found it to be the ideal way to be embedded in Japanese culture and in a living, breathing neighborhood.
Currently, Iori is in the midst of expanding to the countryside, renovating Edo era estates in a handful of pristine far away locations, seldom visited by Americans. The estates in the countryside, called Minka, will be ready in the Fall 2010. The two most highly anticipated areas are in Iya, known as "The Tibet of Japan", and in a tiny, remote island, Ojika, off of Nagasaki, where Christians fled in the early 1600s and hid for 200 years. These are far flung spots Americans would never have access to otherwise unless they were fluent in Japanese and deeply connected---and the preservation aspect hits a deep chord for those concerned with the collapse of the countryside in Japan. Alex described these estates as "treasures lying around"--because of depopulation—“they would have just withered otherwise.” To learn more, check out http://kyoto-machiya.com/eng/
The second development, also in Kyoto, was the opening of the luxury ryokan resort, Hoshinoya, in December 2009. Ryokans are Japanese guesthouses, and are one of Japan’s richest expressions of hospitality, aesthetic sensibility and culinary arts. Unfortunately, because of language and culture barriers, it can be difficult for Americans to find an ideal ryokan experience in Japan, one that brings forth an immersive cultural experience without bewildering them with somewhat rigid rituals which can sacrifice comfort and pleasure. Modeled after the five-year old luxury ryokan resort, Hoshinoya Karuizawa, located seventy minutes outside of Tokyo, Hoshinoya Kyoto offers authentic Japanese culture with modern comfort; guests can have the experience and beauty of staying in a traditional Japanese guesthouse, without the inflexibility that typically comes along with it. For example, at a traditional ryokan, guests eat from a preset menu, and are served in their rooms; at Hoshinoya, a menu of seasonal options is available, and guests are served in an elegant fine dining atmosphere.
Hoshinoya Kyoto is located in the gorgeous Arashiyama district, known for its many temples rich in lore, and for its breathtaking bamboo groves. Accessed by a beautiful boat ride down the Ooigawa river, entering the resort has a dramatic, romantic feel, rich with anticipation. The famously austere design in traditional ryokan has been updated just enough in each of the twenty-five rooms to offer subtle, elegant flourishes—for instance, a gorgeous couch made of the very bamboo the area is known for, and kimono patterns on the wall paper in the bedroom. All rooms have wi-fi, heated floors, and the staff has more than a few fluent English speakers. Clients who have enjoyed Banyan Tree or Aman properties in other parts of the world will likely rave about Hoshinoya---it achieves a similar, luxurious rendition of what is locally and culturally revered. Two more Hoshinoya resorts are in the building stages: one in Fuji, and one in Okinawa; they are slated to open in early 2012. To look into Hoshinoya Kyoto, check out kyoto.hoshinoya.com/en/
Finally, Okinawa made a vibrant, lasting impression as an exotic, once in a lifetime destination for sophisticated spa goers. A two-and-a-half-hour-flight heading south from Tokyo, the island feels like another world because of its blend of influences from Japan, China, America and beyond. Travel advisors with clients who have been to Japan perhaps several times, and are looking for a new and unique excursion to tack on to a trip, ought to consider Okinawa, a place as tropical as French Polynesia, with splendid diving, scuba, and eco-touristic adventures, plus a history and culture complex enough to sustain the most inquisitive, well read and well traveled visitor. Plus, Okinawa boasts the highest percentage of people living over the age of 100 in the world. These centurions not only live longer, most live without major disease. Locals swear by the anti oxidant, cancer fighting power of their seaweed and the health benefits of tightly interdependent human networks. So, beyond the beaches, and beyond the various wraps and massages and beauty treatments that any first class spa can deliver in any place in the world, Okinawa itself carries the secret to longevity and can offer lessons about nutrition and lifestyle for guests to bring home.
As spa resorts go, my top pick would be Kise Bettei, a sexy, sleek, and elegantly landscaped resort, with gorgeous suites, a perfect breakfast of local delicacies and Western favorites, and several swanky lounges for eating, snacking and gazing at the ocean. Advisors should also send guests to nearby Busena Terrace for the Teppanyaki dinner and for the sushi lunch; both are spectacular. For more information about Kise Bettei, check out www.kise-bettei.jp/en/, and Busena Terrace, http://www.terrace.co.jp/English/busena/index.php.