André Fu’s Hotel the Mitsui Celebrates the History and Refinement of Kyoto
The design includes traditional Japanese gardens by landscape master Shunsaku Miyagi as well as a restoration of a 300-year-old Kajiimiya Gate.
Hong Kong architect André Fu fell in love with Kyoto’s aristocratic yet understated, enigmatic quality the first time he visited in 1995. Hardly surprising, then, that he should feel an immense sense of responsibility when commissioned to create a contemporary look for the new hotel which opened this month on the UNESCO World Heritage site opposite Nijō Castle in the heart of the ancient capital.
“I wanted to reflect the experience of Kyoto in an authentic way, yet at the same time not be constrained by that,” he explains. “My approach to Hotel The Mitsui Kyoto was not about breaking rules or upending tradition; it was about bringing a fresh pair of eyes to see, interpret, and celebrate the city in a respectful way.”
First, local artisans restored the 300-year-old Kajiimiya Gate at the entrance to what was the Mitsui Kitake family residence for over 250 years, adding a dark silver-gray patina to the weathered wood.
The gate opens onto a serene bamboo forest, the first of several contemporary and traditional gardens, and a large internal courtyard by Kyoto landscape master Shunsaku Miyagi.
“The soul of the hotel revolves around the experience of landscape and hospitality as if they were one,” says Fu.
In the material palette are subtle hints of wabi-sabi of the moss, rocks, and wood found in temples. A wall in the lobby is lined with angular timber slates in a modern interpretation of the bamboo hedge as a functional and spiritual barrier. Along passageways, oak torii symbolizing the transition to a sacred space is slanted at an unexpected angle.
“These were not straightforward interpretations of Japanese traditions,” Fu explains. “I had to trust my instincts.”
The 161 guest rooms arranged over four floors are serene, minimal sanctuaries that hint at traditional architectural proportions. Bespoke contemporary furniture in solid natural cut walnut features elegant interlocking joints and walls are covered in woven textiles created by kimono designer Jotaro Saito. The Mitsui is the only hotel in Kyoto with its own natural hot spring and all rooms have spacious rough-cut stone bathtubs. There are two Onsen Suites that come with a private garden and outdoor hot-spring bath.
Fu pays tribute to modern Japanese craftsmanship in the handmade washi lampshades that cast soft pools of light and Yukiya Izumita’s rustic ceramic sculpture set in finely raked sand in the lobby. The sleek open fireplace in the lounge is carved out of a single block of stone, and a hand-painted undulating bamboo installation reminiscent of flowing kimono fabric hangs above it. This is contemporary Kyoto: flawless and refined, with an original, current appeal while preserving the finest of its traditions.
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