Hidden away in the valley of the Yukawa River, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is a ryokan mixed with a luxury hotel and a spa retreat, and it takes the best elements of all of them—old and new, natural and manmade, and tradition and innovation—to provide the most relaxing and luxurious experience you may ever have in your life.
It combines elements of its surrounding natural environment—a forest and wild bird sanctuary, and a river in a valley 1000 meters above sea level—with modern, well designed buildings to create a tiny resort area which feels so very far away from the real world, it’s hard to imagine ever feeling stressed.
The main building of the hotel is breathtaking because of its grand use of space and light, with its sky-high ceilings and enormous windows with views to the terraced ponds outside. At the entrance there is a large reception desk, where the absolutely delightful staff can help you with anything you need, and nearby is the divine Japanese restaurant Kasuke, with its unique multi-level seating arrangement.
Above that is the mezzanine level Library Lounge, with espresso coffee and several types of fragrant tea available all day and night, which you can enjoy on the couches and day beds that overlook Kasuke and the gardens.
The rooms themselves are arranged into three groups, the mountain side, the river side and the garden side, then smaller blocks within that, each denoted by a simple design like a rabbit or a flower.
They are large, simple and modern, but with twists of traditional Japanese ryokan. Instead of futons on tatami, the beds are mattresses set into slightly raised platforms. Instead of floor cushions, there are large couches, covered in richly colored cushions. In addition to green tea, they also provide herbal tea and the delicious local Maruyama coffee. Rooms have wooden bathtubs, into which guests are invited to put the seasonal fruit provided, so they can enjoy the aroma and skin benefits while they bathe.
Each room has a balcony or terrace, on which guests can take their breakfast, or relax in the evening and enjoy the feeling of being in nature while the sun goes down.
However, this resort is not just about taking time out to relax. HOSHINOYA has a holistic approach to wellbeing, which includes good food, gentle exercise, massage and meditation.
All the food served in the hotel is fresh, mostly locally sourced, and delicious. It is also beautifully presented, with close attention to color and shape, as well as flavor and nutritional value.
The daily schedule of events, which guests are invited (not pressured) to attend, includes morning stretches in the tatami tearoom and evening stretches under the stars. They also offer various gentle seasonal strolls through the gardens, grounds, and nearby forest.
The spa offers a range of oil massage treatments, designed to relax guests on a deeper level. Professional masseurs will erase all traces of stress from your body, and leave you feeling calm on a whole different level.
One of the most popular aspects of Hoshinoya is the Meditation Bath, a unique onsen experience, with has two main rooms: The light room is high ceilinged with frosted glass walls, so you are surrounded by soft, white light. From there you can swim into the dark room, with a much lower ceiling, which has the feeling of a warm, safe cave. There, with your sight limited, you can focus entirely on the feeling of being immersed in naturally warm, healing water.
Hoshinoya is also noted for being an eco-friendly resort, with 75% of its power being produced on site by its hydropower system. When the current resort was being built, instead of cutting down the trees in the forest in which they were building, the owners opted instead to relocate them elsewhere on the grounds. They even own and support the wild bird sanctuary adjacent to the hotel.
If, for some reason, you feel the need to leave the hotel grounds during your stay, there is plenty to do in the surrounding Hoshino Resorts complex; the popular Haruniré Terrace restaurant area, an eco-tour center, the wild bird sanctuary and the delightful Tombo no Yu onsen.
Twenty-four hours at HOSHINOYA was unquestionably the most relaxing experience I have ever had in my life, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.