Sowaka — Kyoto, Japan

Sowaka — Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto’s Gion neighbourhood has long drawn locals and culture-vultures alike for its storied collection of period architecture, teahouses and bijoux shrines, but the 23-bedroom Sowaka is – once you step through its inconspicuous façade and into the stone threshold – a certified head-turner.

Named for the Sanskrit blessing at the end of Buddhist sutras, the ryokan-style hotel has, thanks to the careful ministrations of local architect Shigenori Uoya, retained the footprint and bones of the original teahouse that stood on the site.

The patina of a ryokan – tatami mats and sliding paper doors, and kimono’d staff gently swishing through the mood-lit corridors – is layered over original oval windows that frame tranquil tableaus of rock gardens and moss-covered trees.

Modernity gently intrudes by way of low-slung chairs, cashmere and camel hair mattresses, and in-house restaurant La Bombance, an outpost of the Tokyo original where head chef Tadahiko Urimori parlays seasonal produce into luscious edible works of art.§

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