Hotel Review: Japan: Hyatt Regency Kyoto

Hotel Review: Japan: Hyatt Regency Kyoto
Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, is the city that most beautifully illustrates the modernity and tradition of the island nation that is arguably the world's most technologically advanced yet is still marked by historic ritual, such as the head bow, which remains as common as the wearing of kimonos in hot spring inns. Here in Kyoto, a high tech city of 1.4 million that is headquarters for Nintendo, a super-chic railway station and over three dozen colleges and universities, shoguns' castles still tower from the skyline, and around every corner there's yet another of the city's hundreds of incense-thick Buddhist temples (where you can have your fortune told) and Shinto shrines (where one can pray to gods of sake, horse racing, fortune and education).

Former site of emperor's palace and considered the cultural heart of Kyoto, the district known as Higashiyama Shichijo still provides the splendor once reserved for royalty: across from the copper-domed National Museum and next to the Chishaiwin temple of a thousand Buddhas (said to be the world's longest wooden structure), the Hyatt Regency Kyoto is where the city's trendsetters now hold court in a flashy setting that showcases the marriage of contemporary Japanese design with history.

Opened in 2006, the Hyatt Regency-- rated the finest hotel in Kyoto and the second favorite in all of Japan by Conde Nast Readers – boasts an interior entirely renovated by leading designer Takashi Sugimoto of the renowned firm Super Potato and the results are dazzling minimalism that is itself an icon defining contemporary Japanese design.

Walking into the airy lobby edged by Japanese rock garden, eyes are immediately drawn to the lattice work that wraps the space, its designs drawn from kimonos, a theme that plays throughout the hotel. A dramatic curving staircase of wood and glass leads to Italian restaurant Sette and its adjoining gourmet bakery, while straight ahead is the open-air Grill, a popular steak and seafood restaurant where local fare gets a French twist, and the wood-fired oven turns out gorgeous loaves of bread during the morning and perfectly grilled Kumamoto steaks, succulent Hiyoshi pork, Kurama prawns and tuna fresh from the Sea of Japan for lunch and dinner.

Hidden downstairs, however, is the secret gem of the hotel – Japanese restaurant and bar Touzan, where guests can perch at the sushi bar, sit down for a guided sake tasting from nearby breweries or embark on a multi-course feast of regional fare from layer creations made with female crab and chrysanthemum greens, hot pots of sake, bonito and burdock root, charcoal grilled regional vegetables from shiitake mushrooms to kugyo leeks – and skilled chef Akikazu Fujiguchi is happy to customize orders to guests' preferences.

Tucked throughout this wood-wrapped eatery and bar are many of Super Potato's most fetching installations – from displays of artfully cracked ceramics, to displays of old door handles, tiles and pastry molds, and a backroom where the “walls” are made of densely packed books.

The striking design that marries modernity and tradition extends into guest rooms as well, where kimono fabrics – some bright, some in muted earth tones -- adorn the walls and the show stealer of the gleaming bathroom with high tech rain shower is the deep wooden soaking tub. Some suites may also include old style Tatami mat living rooms with low tables and sliding shoji screen doors.

The Riraku spa is likewise a standout for its unusual treatments from salt glow scrubs to facials made with Azuki bean powder and seaweed and featuring two of Japan's most popular lines – Chidoriya (the original skin care experts for geisha girls) and Yon-ka (a fruit enzyme line created by two French scientists). The Hyatt Regency Kyoto is also the first hotel in the country to feature Japanese acupuncture as part of its therapy: performed with thinner needles and virtually painless, the energizing and balancing therapy has proved so popular that the Hyatt Regency now promotes in a special "Ishoku Dogen" package that combines two nights stay, three acupuncture treatments and two customized Japanese dinners. (See for ongoing specials as well as upcoming events such as flower festivals and Maiko dancing events at nearby temples.)