Close to the pristine Hozu River and with access to national treasures of Japan, the Suiran hotel in the former Japanese capital can’t be faulted, writes Hanna Hussein
THE heat and humidity do not stop us from traversing the narrow preserved street of Saga-Arashiyama that’s crowded with locals and tourists.
Located in the western outskirts of Kyoto, Arashiyama is a charming destination in the Kansai region of Japan, famous for its natural beauty and historical buildings.
Arashiyama is a destination that dates back to 794, when Kyoto, then called Heiankyo, became home to the imperial court.
The laid-back town flourished as a summer and holiday retreat for court nobles attracted to its scenic charms.
Usually, tourists visiting Kyoto do a one day tour of Arashiyama since it is located less half an hour away via a drive or train ride.
However, my husband and I decide to spent two days exploring this picturesque city.
Dragging our huge luggage on the sidewalk, and once in awhile gawking over the pretty souvenirs and handmade craft at the small shops along the way, we are in no rush to find our way to Suiran, our home for two nights.
After a leisurely 15-minute walk from Saga Arashiyama Station, we spot the iconic Togetsu-kyo Bridge, a wooden bridge that spans Katsura River — ah, we are getting nearer to Suiran.
Our arrival at Suiran’s Japanese-style entrance gate is welcomed by a gatekeeper. For security purposes, he asks for our names to check in. He then ushers us inside, crossing a beautiful Japanese garden overlooking the lush Arashiyama hills, heading towards a low-slung building with tiled roofs softly rounded in the classic mukuri style that blends gently into its surroundings.
Inside the elegant lobby, we are served welcome drinks upon check in.
While waiting, the lovely receptionist clad in a stunning kimono gives us a little background on this luxurious hotel which was once the site of an imperial villa, a venue for aristrocrats to socialise back in the day.
The name Suiran combines two Chinese characters — sui, which is jade green, representing the beauty of the verdant hills and sparkling waters of the area, and ran, short for Arashiyama.
Baron Shozo Kawasaki, a Japanese industrialist and shipbuilder, built his Enmeikaku villa here in 1899. Part of the architectural elements have been preserved as the hotel’s signature restaurant and cafe.
After getting the key cards, the receptionist escorts us to the Tsukinone Room, which is the superior type.
The room is inspired by the moon, and furnished with furniture and fittings such as moon-shaped light and moonlit river surface textured carpet.
The room is really spacious and has a balcony overlooking the Arashiyama hills and Hozu River. Since our room is on the highest level of the building, we get a panoramic view!
I love the open concept of the bathroom, which gives the room extended space.
One of the most remarkable ornaments in the roomis the jade-green Shigaraki pottery basin bowl.
The bathroom boasts marble-topped vanities and oversized walk-in showers with Molton Brown amenities for auniquely luxe experience.
Within its richly historic setting, Suiran was created to improve on the past while opening the way to the future.
This world-class property seamlessly blends the enduring cultural traditions of old Kyoto with modern-day comforts to offer travellers exceptional experiences steeped in warmth and sophistication.
In fact, some of the guestrooms at Suiran provide terraces and private outdoor hot-spring baths for relaxation while taking in the bracing mountain air — perfect for those who want to opt for a more luxurious choice.
SIGHT OF HOZU
One of the perks of staying at Suiran is guests are invited to join the Champagne Delight (offering unlimited complimenary drinks) between 4.30pm and 6.30pm at Saryo Hassui, a quaint cafe by the riverside ideal for eating a light meal or indulging in a sampling of seasonal desserts.
The cafe offers a sweeping view of the forested slopes beyond the pristine waters of the Hozu River and this is where one can enjoy the natural beauty of Japan in every season, from the riotous cherry blossoms of spring and the luxuriant verdure and splashing waters of summer to autumn’s bright tapestry of leaves and silvery blankets of snow in winter.
My husband and I grab mocktails and sit by the terrace enjoying the summer scenery.
We stay even after the sky changes colour, chatting and eating snacks. Oh, it’s so romantic!
After the sun sets, we watch the Ukai demonstration on the river.
Also known as cormorant fishing which is a traditional way of fishing, you can only witness it during summer.
Cormorant fishing has been practised since over 1,000 years ago, long before the era when the capital of Japan was located in Kyoto.
During the 800s, Emperor Seiwa enjoyed watching the fishing and that was the start of pleasure viewing of the event.
From the cafe terrace, we can see few long wooden boats roam the river. Each boat has a large fire that hangs from its bow to provide light for the boatmen to steer and to fish.
Cormorant birds usually catch fish and swallow it right away while it is fresh. So, the fisherman usually tie the neck of the cormorant with a rope, not too tight to the size that big fish cannot go through, then free them in the river.
When the cormorant catches a fish, the fisherman will pull the lead and then take the fish out of its mouth. The fish caught is very fresh and tastes better than those caught with hooks.
You need to be patient to watch the demonstration. From where we are, we can barely see it, but when the boat comes nearer, we can see the cormorants on leashes swimming alongside the boat.
If you want to see the action up close, there are special sightseeing cruises offered where they will shadow the ukai boats.
FEAST LIKE THE EMPEROR
For dinner, we head to Kyo-Suiran, the main restaurant of the luxurious boutique hotel offering guests authentic Japanese cuisine.
Next to the lobby, the restaurant is housed in the original historical building which used to be the summer house for the founder of Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
Some of the Meiji architecture still remain including the vaulted ceilings with exposed beams crafted of entire tree trunks which demonstrate a reverence for natural timber.
There are also some original art and calligraphy by Masayoshi Matsukata given to Kawasaki which enhance the distinctive character of this traditional 19th century residence.
The floor-to-ceiling windows on the side offer Japanese garden scenery with unobstructed views of the tranquil Arashiyama hills and Hozu River. I can’t wait to have breakfast here, to sit by the window, admiring the beauty.
Tonight we try Kaiseki, a traditional multi-course dinner where the chef will combine Japanese and French cooking methods.
Our 13-course seasonal dinner curated by the chef starts with a special soup made of soft shell turtle, ginger and melon.
At first, my husband and I are disturbed by the ingredient “turtle” but the waiter (who turns out to be Malaysian) ensures us that it is halal.
He shows us the shell and to my surprise, it is horseshoe crab, common in some parts of Johor.
The dinner continues with interesting dishes including sashimi of the day, creatively served on a digital plating to imitate the water, but mostly seafood and vegetarian to cater to our halal requirements.
As for breakfast, the restaurant serves a la carte options of either Japanese or Western food.
We opt for Japanese breakfast which consists of grilled salmon, white rice, half boiled eggs, soup and vegetarian side dishes. There are also healthy juices served in small glasses.
The boutique hotel offers access to some of Japan’s most important national treasures.
As it is set along Hozu River, it is within walking distance to Buddhist Tenryuji Temple, a World Heritage site.
But, most importantly, the famous bamboo forest to the north of the hotel is less than a 10-minute walk away.
The perks of staying here is that you get to explore the beautiful scenic bamboo forest early in the morning.
We walk there just after sunrise, and there is no one in sight.
I also recommend the Sagano Romantic Train! The last time I was here two years ago in autumn, the foliage was in warm colours. But today, my husband and I are going to see a different scenic view since it’s summer.
We opt to sit at the windowless open-air coach to get a better view. The train features wooden seats and bare light bulbs adorn each of the five cars in an art deco style.
Once the train moves, I can feel the wind brushing my skin. I get to enjoy a totally different scenic view from my last visit. The scenery is more green and it’s not as cold.
The train travels leisurely, at an average speed of 25kmh, about the same as a speedy bicycle ride. This allows passengers to enjoy the scenery.
The 7.3km journey takes 25 minutes from Saga Torokko station to Kameoka Torokko Station, following the scenic Hozukyo Ravine in its route.
SUIRAN, A LUXURY COLLECTION HOTEL, KYOTO
12 Susukinobaba-cho, Saga-Tenryuji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan
TEL +81 075 872 0101
FAX +81 075 872 0103
STAY The hotel offers 39 guestrooms in a three-storey Japanese style building. These include six specialty rooms, and 17 rooms are equipped with open-air bath with natural Arashiyama spa water. This retreat is inspired by traditional Japanese touches and culture offering a truly enriching and indigenous experience.
EAT The hotel has two F&B outlets — Kyo-Suiran and Cafe Hassui. Both offers fresh local flavours and innovative washoku cuisine, expertly crafted by Executive Chef Hidetoshi Miki.
DO Complimentary Champagne Delight in the evening, and watch the Cormorant Fishing at Cafe Hassui. There’s also the private traditional Japanese spa.
GO Walk at Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, ride the Sagano Romantic Train, hop on the traditional boat to see Hozu River, and enjoy a rickshaw ride tour in
HIGH Spacious room, overlooking the enchanting scenic view!
LOW A luxurious hotel offering Japanese way of life in the historical part of Kyoto? Oh, no complaints!