• January 24, 2021
  • Spaces
  • By: Katie Barton

A samurai lineage, a generations-old property next to an imperial castle, a faithfulness to Japanese tradition, and a mission to bring all this history to the 21st Century traveler are what define Hotel The Mitsui, a new luxury hotel and onsen spa recently opened in Kyoto.


‘Hotel The Mitsui’ is at its heart a tribute to the history of the ubiquitous Mitsui family as well as the natural beauty and bounty of Japan. Descended from displaced samurai warriors, Takatoshi Mitsui opened a textile store in 1673 in Edo, launching a trajectory that would eventually make his family one of the most successful in Japan. Over the years, the Mitsui transitioned from merchants to financiers, branching into many other commercial ventures.

The property upon which The Hotel Mitsui currently sits, next to the UNESCO-listed Nijo Castle, was purchased by Takahira Mitsui in the early 1800s and remained in the family until just after WWII, acting as both a residence and operating headquarters for the family business. Reminders of the original structure live on in the hotel today: as you enter through the time-worn Kajimiya Gate, feel the hushed echoes of 300 years flow past its thick, heavy beams. Immaculately restored scrollwork and interlocking joists honor the old ways of craftsmanship, a reverent acknowledgment of the past, and an elegant contrast to the sleek new hotel that now stands in its place.

Hotel The Mitsui features a courtyard garden at the center of the property, and it’s nothing short of a master-class in the time-honored Japanese method of teioku ichinyo—a fluid conversation between structure and garden, interior and exterior, manmade and natural. The garden celebrates the native flora of all four seasons and is best viewed from one of the hotel’s four dining establishments, each offering a unique perspective on the perennial landscape. Cozy up to a Smokey Manhattan from the Garden Bar at sunset, or some Mitsui family-owned Matsusaka wagyu beef prepared teppan-style at TOKI, the hotel’s signature restaurant. Across the garden, the cuisine shifts from Japanese-French fusion to Italian at Forni, a grill and wood-fired pizza spot, while parties up to sixteen can enjoy an exclusive dinner at Shiki-No-Ma, a private room styled after the former Mitsui residence’s entertainment space.

Guest rooms are graciously appointed and designed with the tranquility of a traditional Japanese tea room in mind, but in place of four and a half tatami mats and a hearth in the floor, you’ll find polished live-edge furniture and roomy stone-hewn bathtubs. The truly next-level Onsen Suite features private outdoor hot spring access—essentially an en suite natural hot tub—in addition to standard amenities including free WiFi and multilingual TV channels, but you can’t make a bad choice from Hotel The Mitsui’s 161 lodging options.

A bit more on the onsen: Japan is a volcanically active island chain, resulting in an abundance of naturally occurring hot springs, or areas where the molten core of the earth comes close enough to the bedrock that the heat is transferred to circulating groundwater. Where this heated, mineral-rich water reaches the surface, you have an onsen. Kyoto is one such location, and Hotel The Mitsui does in fact draw its onsen water directly from a spring half a mile below the property. Hotel guests are invited to bathe (with swimwear) in the thermal spring, and we recommend indulging in a spa treatment while you’re down in the grotto for the full relaxation package.

Other curated experiences include wellness breathing classes, an art-centric tour of the property, and a traditional tea ceremony in the Shimogamo Villa, a registered Important Cultural Asset. You’d be forgiven for not leaving the hotel compound during your stay in Kyoto, and perhaps this is by design. ‘Hotel The Mitsui’ encompasses not only the history of the Mitsui family but also many of Japan’s most iconic and long-standing cultural traditions, all in one extremely aesthetically pleasing package.


Property photos accredited to: hotelthemitsui.com/en/kyoto/


Be sure to schedule an afternoon tea in the Shimogamo Villa during your stay for an authentic tea ceremony experience, complete with confectionery

Hotel bikes are available upon request, and offer one of the best ways to explore the city.

Interested in the hot springs but craving a little privacy? Hotel guests can rent individual onsens, which come equipped with a private garden

If your room has a stone lantern, it’s an original from the property—there are a few of them scattered throughout the hotel