Sumiya Kiho-an -Art, Design, and Wellness
Cruising along on a 25-minute shuttle ride from Kameoka Station, I passed a lot of rice fields, mist, and billboards selling health products… all true signs that I was in the Kyoto countryside . The very second that the van arrived at our destination, Sumiya Kiho-an, the kimono-clad ryokan staff came bustling towards us. A woman greets us with an energetic “yokosoooo” (“welcome!”), three or four more staff following in her wake. As I step out, she quickly grabs my rugged black bag and ushers us through the thatched roof gate.
Sumiya Kiho-an is a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) located about an hour away from Kyoto Station in the Yunohana Onsen region of Kameoka City. Yunohana Onsen is frequented by locals who are looking to soak in some natural hot springs since central Kyoto offers limited options that are mostly man-made. In fact, the area’s nickname is “Kyo no Okuzashiki” (“Kyoto’s Inner Parlor”), referring to its status as a getaway location that’s still close to the larger city. Legend says that samurai warriors would come to this area to soak in the hot springs to heal their wounds during the medieval Warring States period.
Wounded or not, I was drawn to the resort to bask in the delightful hot spring waters just like the samurai of old. But, I also had another agenda— to be healed by the power of art.
In the spring of 2022, Sumiya Kiho-an debuted their “Kohoo” suite, an art-filled guest room designed by contemporary Japanese artist Yukinori Yanagi. The name “Kohoo” comes from a Zen term meaning “the power to call the wind”. Staying in the 140-square-meter suite is what I imagine staying at a museum would feel like. Every corner, every wall, every room is dressed with artwork. As the ryokan’s sales manager Tanaka-san explains: “I think there are many hotels that offer ‘art rooms,’ but none of them truly allow you to be a part of the art like this. In the Kohoo room, you get to experience it in every room.”
Sumiya Kiho-an already had a relationship with Yukinori Yanagi before “Kohoo”, thanks to a collaboration on their recent lobby renovation that now includes the “Hakutai Gallery”. “Hakutai” (“Eternity”), references a classic poem about life being an eternal journey. The chic, dark “Hakutai Gallery” is a creative contrast to the traditional thatched roof entrance outside the ryokan, which somehow felt right on theme. If “life is an eternal journey”, I hope it’s also unpredictable and full of surprises.
As soon as you walk into the ryokan, you are greeted by one of the pieces Yanagi made especially for Sumiya Kiho-an. The large-scale artwork “Study for Japanese Art – Hokusai”, an homage to “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa”, was created using sand tunnels dug by ants. The beautiful black wall supporting the work was created by plaster artisan Akira Kusumi.
For both the gallery space and the “Kohoo” suite, Yanagi combined his talents with traditional artisans such as Kusumi and washi artist Wataru Hatano, whose work can be found in the dining area and bedroom of the art suite. “Kohoo” has three distinctive rooms which seamlessly connect with each other, echoing the idea of “different worlds existing in one’s life journey”. The rooms are “Heaven Room”, “Chrysanthemum Room”, and “Earth Room”. One of the perks of staying in this ryokan is your room containing a private bath, but the “Kohoo” suite exceeds that expectation with two completely different bathing experiences. While soaking in the round stone bath of the “Earth Room” you can enjoy the way the green color of the leaves outside reflect on the glazed tile wall created by Naoto Ishii, or you can sink into the clear acrylic bath tub outside in the “Heaven Room” and watch the rainbow rippling on the walls from the reflections on the water.
After a long soak in both baths, I was called for dinner. Another perk of staying at a ryokan— the delicious local cuisine! Refreshed, a little dazed, and plenty famished, I stepped outside the room and was instantly transported back to characteristic ryokan architecture. The expected continued as I walked down the hallway and past the library space, familiar scenes I saw when checking in, yet the basement restaurant turned out to be another “world” I had yet to experience.
More traditional than my suite yet exuding modern elegance, the ryokan restaurant features an expansive view of the nature surrounding the ryokan. In the center is a square counter where you can observe the chefs prepare your kaiseki dinner with local ingredients such as Tanba beef and Matsutake mushrooms depending on the season. The ryokan also takes pride in their wine selection, which is usually comprised of over thirty Austrian vintages. I took my glass of wine outside to the restaurant patio so I could take in the vision of the ryokan glowing in the evening lights.
“So close to Kyoto… How did I not know about this place?”
After staying at Sumiya Kiho-an, it was easy to understand why the ryokan decided to work with a contemporary artist such as Yukinori Yanagi… and why a contemporary artist would want to work with a ryokan! Both have an appreciation for beautiful things, but more than that, they want people to experience a world which isn’t one dimensional, full of hidden messages and surprises. A ryokan which seamlessly connects art, wellness, and traditional Japanese hospitality? That’s what makes Sumiya Kiho-an a perfect Kyoto getaway.
Words: Sara Aiko
Photos: Sara Aiko