The DNA: 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.
✅ free Wi-Fi • size matters: 23 rooms (39-97m2) (420-1,044 sq ft) • hotel opened: November 2018 • architecture: Shigenori Uoya ❌ no parking available • no pets allowed • 24-hour front desk