FUFU KYOTO – Japanese Hospitality with a modern twist
FUFU Kyoto may be one of those hotels that you can easily walk past without noticing, but trust me… This is a good thing. Japanese aesthetics are all about harmony and not disrupting the peace of one’s surroundings, so being in the “flow” of the city, so to speak, is just one of the many ways in which this hotel exemplifies the beauty of the ancient capital. Nestled in the elegant Okazaki area, an absolute favorite of mine, FUFU Kyoto manages to blend in seamlessly with the nearby temples, art museums, and world-famous ryotei restaurants without losing any presence or originality of its own.
When I visited the hotel, I was guided down a narrow path lined with bamboo as soon as I stepped foot on the property. The walk itself was therapeutic, with a soft breeze muffling the sound of the cars behind me and the bamboo dancing on the wind. As I came to the end of the pathway, I was welcomed with a silent bow by one of the attentive staff and entered the world of FUFU.
FUFU Kyoto opened in April 2021, joining several FUFU brand hotels across Japan. The hotel brands itself as a “globally unique Japanese resort experience,” and all their hotels are surrounded by an abundance of nature. Secreted away in the hospitality of FUFU, guests have the chance to luxuriate in what each resort offers, which includes relaxing hot springs and cuisine made from the freshest local produce.
The charming path leading up to the hotel was just a sample of what was to come. As FUFU Kyoto’s general manager explained, their intention is to allow the guests to feel “like they are walking into another world.” Enter through the doors and you will notice the lobby is darkly lit, creating a sense of mystery and privacy. Guests are also welcomed by a large, elegant ikebana flower arrangement possessed of just enough presence to make you linger and appreciate while still blending smoothly with the wooden interior of the reception area. Wood is used liberally throughout the hotel, a perfect way to bring sophistication and luxury to the modern space. The artful lighting of the lobby follows guests into the hallway, which is decorated with a thoughtful selection of smaller ikebana arrangements.
While the darker lighting provides a feeling of privacy, the generously sized windows in the lobby and the rooms brings in the light and a delightful view of the hotel’s Japanese-style garden. The garden is centered around a pond filled with water flowing from Lake Biwa, and different seasonal sights such as cherry blossoms and maple leaves delight the senses year-round. Guests with the urge are welcome to stroll through this Japanese style garden or enjoy a different view from the restaurant or detached bar. As FUFU says it, “this connection to nature and surroundings is an important theme of the FUFU hotel brand.”
FUFU Kyoto is located in one of the most culturally rich neighborhoods of Kyoto. Okazaki is known for its scenic beauty and historical sites such as Nanzen-ji temple and Murin-an garden. For centuries, Okazaki was home to villas and retreats enjoyed by the wealthy and powerful, many of which are still around today in various forms, all with the majestic Higashiyama mountains in the background. There are many modern attractions in the area as well, such as the KYOCERA museum and a variety of shops you can enjoy. Okazaki is easy to navigate by bus, subway, or even foot. If you can peel yourself away from your very comfortable room and cypress wood onsen baths, that is!
There are 40 rooms at the FUFU Kyoto, and the rooms range in size from 42-101m2— quite generous for a Kyoto hotel. My luxurious stay was spent in the FUFU Luxury Corner Suite, which was 74m2 in size and equipped with the most comfortable Simmons mattress beds. It was packed with organic amenities and had the most perfect long, sleek couch that looked over the hotel garden, perfect for naps, reading books, and eating snacks. Not to mention, every single room comes with its own onsen (hot springs) bath with water brought in from the natural springs in the Arashiyama area. The bath itself is made from hinoki (cypress wood), too, which is said to have a certain healing quality.
While I want to pretend that all I did was relax and pamper myself, I also had deadlines and Zoom calls to do during my hotel stay. The comfortable sofa and table setting did make a luxurious office, however, and my private onsen was the richest of rewards after each task was completed. Finish a Zoom call, take a dip in the onsen, write an email, take a dip in the onsen, write three sentences, take a dip in the onsen, eat a snack, take a dip in the onsen… You understand.
Omotenashi, Japanese hospitality, is world famous for a reason. Grand gestures of omotenashi are felt from the second you step into the FUFU Kyoto hotel, but what made me feel extra cared for were the simple but thoughtful things. For example, the scent of the hotel’s signature incense welcomes you and an instant calm washes over your body the instant you open the door to your room. Each room comes with its own utility box for delivery services, so when you order a meal, a daytime snack, or one of their specially curated souvenirs, the item(s) get delivered to the box by the entrance with no worries on your part about being half-dressed after that third onsen bath or being interrupted during a business call with London. There are copious amounts of soft, fluffy towels in the room, and a few are already placed by the private onsen so you can go straight into the bath upon arrival. The wooden-textured key handle (not a card, but an actual key!) is so soft to the touch, and there was something very calming and intentional about inserting the key into the lock and turning it. And lastly… big trash cans! This feature might not be one most pay attention to, but small, overflowing trash cans is one of my pet peeves.
IOTO RESTAURANT: Guests have the option to enjoy a Japanese-style breakfast and dinner made with fresh, local ingredients at the hotel’s restaurant, IOTO. If you don’t want to enjoy your morning meal at the restaurant with the garden as your backdrop, you can ask to have the colorful breakfast sent to your room. In the evening, you can enjoy IOTO’s charcoal grill vegetables and other delicious menu options paired with alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. Also, if you contact the hotel in advance, IOTO can accommodate your dietary needs. I asked for a pescatarian meal, for example. From April 2023, non-hotel guests can also enjoy lunch at the restaurant.
YAE HITOE: Through the Japanese-style garden and past the family of koi fish in the pond sits Yae Hitoe, a detached hanare room where guests can participate in cultural activities such as tea ceremonies, private yoga, and ikebana flower arrangement classes. By night, Yae Hitoe turns into a bar serving everything from high-class whiskey to the hotel’s signature cocktails.
ROOM SNACKS: Okay, here me out. While sweets and treats might not be high on your list, you can really tell the quality of a hotel’s omotenashi by the attention to detail in the snack selection. First, FUFU Kyoto had a nice variety, including kaki no tane and cookies. Second, they offered unique flavor profiles, such as wasabi and yuzu. The snack that won the crown was the matcha-flavored mochi (only available in the Suites), a collaboration between the hotel and an Uji matcha maker. I was told by the hotel that the mochi would be “divine”, but what they didn’t tell me was that it would be the best matcha flavored mochi I had ever had! I eagerly asked where I could purchase it when checking out, but to my disappointment the mochi is only available for guests staying at FUFU. Oh, well… One more reason to go back to the hotel!
Words: Sara Aiko
Photo: Sara Aiko