The Australian - Wish Magazine


A sanctuary for those in search of serenity

- Susan Kurosawa is associate editor (travel) of The Australian.

A tribute stone to Australian architect Kerry Hill, who died in 2018, is positioned in a garden patch named in his honour, amid maples and cedars, camellias and cypresses, in a setting he truly loved. The little memorial speaks volumes about Hill’s connection­s with the Aman group and his deep love for Japan. The new Aman Kyoto, tucked in a residentia­l district of the former imperial capital’s northern reaches, was Hill’s third project in Japan, after his Aman Tokyo urban retreat and Amanemu, hunkered in a national park on the IseShima peninsula of the main island of Honshu. While he didn’t live to see his Kyoto vision realised, I feel the architect’s presence as I stand by his engraved marker and mellowed lateautumn leaves waft by like amber butterflie­s.

The essence of Japanese design is as much about what isn’t there, and the paredback sensibilit­y of this sanctuary, with just 24 guestrooms and a pair of twobedroom villastyle pavilions, is almost monastic. Four twostorey buildings, geometric in their precise lines, latticed with timber slats and capped by overhangin­g roofs, offer garden and mountain aspects from 60sq m upper and lower chambers. I am up high in No 10, in the Kaede (maple) category, facing west towards rows of “lifted” trees, their tall, bare trunks topped by foliage. The template is of a traditiona­l inn, or ryokan, elevated with all the necessary comforts and technology but never

losing sight of timehonour­ed principles of natural textures, paredback lines, and an absence of clutter or clashing colours. There’s tatami matting in the bedroomcum­lounge, and a mix of customdesi­gned Japanese and western furniture and fittings. Expect a single perfect flower or an artfully placed branch rather than a blowsy arrangemen­t, a simple fruit bowl of what could be the two rosiest apples ever grown, and an inkbrush scroll in an alcove instead of a statement artwork. Add pale timbers and low whitedress­ed beds inspired by futon. The hinoki cypress bath in the greytiled bathroom is big and square, a take on the Japanese ofuro tub. Sprinkle in yuzu bath crystals, and soak in citrusscen­ted mist. Then wrap up in an oversized robe and don slippers to return to the tatami matting, upon which shoes are not permitted.

Right about now, I could kneel on a cushion at the low table and attempt to pen a scholarly haiku. But the view is way too diverting. Beyond a wall of fullheight windows, gardeners with tiny brooms are tending the mosssprink­led paths, rocky steps and neat borders of this onceforgot­ten realm, pausing to gently remove leaves from small jizo statues, believed by Buddhists to protect miscarried babies and children who’ve died before their parents. The groundsmen have little time to dawdle, however, as the hotel estate covers 3ha within a broader reach of 29ha of permanent forest at the foot of Hidari Daimonji mountain. Its previous owner had reserved the land for a textile museum to display his unparallel­ed collection of kimono obi sashes, but his dream was not to be. Revised zoning laws in this residentia­l area eventually meant the property could be acquired for commercial use.

Aman has a huge responsibi­lity as this fragile estate’s new custodian, where nature and heritage are at the forefront. But Hill would have been delighted, I’m sure, to see his vision realised, of not just a hotel with a garden but a green and growing place where guests can sleep, and breathe deeply, in the most serene style imaginable.


The cube-like Living Pavilion sits centre-stage, with deep views from picture windows and a décor brightened with custom-made ceramic tiles. It seats 32 indoors and 28 on a terrace that includes a sunken area piled with cushions and a flame pit.

The tall-ceilinged room, with dark timbers, ribbed lantern lights, dovegrey fabrics and a conical central fireplace, opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus an extraordin­ary afternoon tea of tiny cakes and mochi, bento box-style savoury treats, creamy parfaits and scones with three varieties of jam, and a freshly frothed cup of matcha as a ceremonial finale. Executive chef Kentaro Torii’s cuisine is based on what he calls “the gifts of the land” with an emphasis on local produce that includes estate-grown greens across seasonal menus of regional delicacies and cross-cultural creations such as fish wrapped in noodles instead of batter and fried with chips on the side.

The finer-dining choice is Taka-an, named in honour of potter, calligraph­er and craftsman Honami Koetsu (15581637), synonymous with the former artists’ colony of Takagamine, the site of Aman Kyoto. The set-course menus of tiny dishes, impeccably served on exquisite tableware, are designed to be taken slowly and with reverence. Garnishes include single maple leaves and, with dessert, a minuscule drift of fairy floss. Best seats to observe the chefs, as immaculate and serious as surgeons in their white hats and coats, are up at the 11m-long bar crafted in one piece from an African tulip tree. Picnic baskets are also offered in spring and summer and there’s no shortage of shady glades and clearings on the estate, including Kurusuno garden beside a politely tinkling stream.


Prepare to strip down and steam up at the Aman Spa, a mini-onsen with indoor-outdoor bathing, segregated for men and women. A natural mineral spring feeds water into the pools, which are heated to muscle-relaxing heights. Spa options include treatments with green tea powder, camellia oil and black bean scrubs, or indulge in a spot of yoga, shiatsu massage or guided meditation, or stay fully clothed and venture out for shinrin-yoku, the Japanese art of “forest bathing”, which means a full immersion in nature, contemplat­ing its ineffable beauty.


Kyoto is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and perhaps its most famous, the gold pavilion of Kinkaku-ji, is about a 20-minute stroll from Aman Kyoto. Other religious sites within easy taxi distance include the raked Zen garden and bamboo glades of Shodenji, or Oubai-in, within the Daitoku-ji complex, neither of which is likely to be as crowded as the more fabled drawcards. Consider enlisting a guide from Kyoto Artisans Concierge to visit ateliers, studios and tiny factories and watch shibori masters and weavers at work and ceramicist­s and calligraph­ers carrying on family businesses. Or learn the art of the tea ceremony at Camellia Garden, a centuries-old house near the entrance to Ryoan-ji, where kimonoclad Atsuko demonstrat­es, with perfect English, the protocols of serving matcha.


Ask the concierge for details of bespoke experience­s exclusive to guests. These could include special access to Myoshin-ji temple plus a meditation session and tour with resident monks, or a visit to one of the classic teahouses of the historic Gion district in central Kyoto, including a dance performanc­e by a geisha or apprentice maiko. Onsite activities range from flower arranging with an ikebana expert to joining a gardener to source branches, moss and pebbles to create a miniature bonsai-style garden dish.

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 ??  ?? Clockwise from above; The outdoor onsen; fine dining at Taka-an; bathroom with its hinoki cypress bath; garden path.
Clockwise from above; The outdoor onsen; fine dining at Taka-an; bathroom with its hinoki cypress bath; garden path.

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