Japan certainly has no shortage of luxurious hotels, but this past year the country has introduced a trio of stand-out accommodations that are shaking things up. Whether you’re in search of an adrenaline-pumping adventure, want to feel like a local in Tokyo (and enjoy your own private karaoke-disco), or learn about agriculture through interactive experiences, these three new properties offer different ways to connect with the destination.
Touted as the first expedition hotel in Japan, Zenagi opened this past April to provide extraordinary experiences in the Kiso region. In addition to being the only luxury accommodation near this portion of the Nakasendo route—one of two roads that connected Kyoto and what is now modern-day Tokyo during the Edo period—what makes Zenagi unique is truly exceptional programming that allows travelers to explore the countryside and culture with guides that come from the worlds of professional athletics, Greenpeace, and more.
Activities are customized to your preferences, but it’s worth asking about some of the more exemplary options, which include shower climbing of waterfalls in the Kiso River, paragliding along the Japanese Alps, hiking and e-biking between the two well-preserved post towns of Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku, and visiting a master woodworker to make your own pair of chopsticks. All the while, you’ll be in good hands with expert guides like Taro Ando, an Olympic athlete who now coaches Japan’s national canoe team; Yoshiki Kuremoto, paragliding gold medalist in the 2018 Asian Games; and Mamoru Sekiguchi, who formerly worked with Outward Bound and Greenpeace.
When it’s time to relax, enjoy the oversized bathtubs in one of the three spacious rooms at the hotel (which is set in a 200-year-old kominka, or “old house”), and savor Japanese or Western bites that have been curated by Hidehito Uchiyama of Tokyo’s Ginza Uchiyama and Patrizia di Benedict of Michelin-starred Bye Bye Blues in Palermo, Italy, respectively.
When Trunk (Hotel) opened in 2017, it set a high bar for what a lifestyle boutique property should look and feel like. Following its success, the parent company this past August opened up Trunk (House), an exclusive-use residence located in Tokyo’s Kagurazaka neighborhood. Occupying a 70-year-old, two-story building that previously served as a ryotei (a type of Japanese restaurant that typically only accepts customers by referral) and geisha training house, the one-bedroom abode offers guests the privacy and space to feel like a local, with all the comforts of a hotel.
While the exterior has been restored to preserve the original architecture, the interiors fuse heritage and modernity. Paper screens and wood-panel ceilings are juxtaposed with brass pendant lights and contemporary utensils by artist Tom Sachs. The bathroom—which has amenities made in partnership with Buly 1803—boasts a traditional Hinoki cypress tub inspired by public bathhouses, above which hangs a rather risqué piece of work by ukiyo-e artist Masumi Ishikawa. The living space features a tatami mat tearoom, with a separate sitting area outfitted with leather furniture by Stephen Kenn.
Stays include the services of a full-time attendant, who will gladly shake up some cocktails in your own private karaoke-disco room, as well as those of a private chef who will craft anything from Japanese dishes to haute French cuisine in the house’s open kitchen.
Dubbed as Japan’s first agritourism resort, Risonare Nasu opened its doors in the Nasu highlands this past November, with the aim of providing guests an escape from the chaos of urban life by connecting with them with nature through engaging activities. The property has a rice field, garden, and two greenhouses that grow over 80 different kinds of organic vegetables and herbs throughout the year—all of which you can explore during your stay.
Kick off your morning with a walk through the lush forest, followed by a farmer’s lesson to check out the current produce being grown on the property and participate in hands-on activities with the staff, such as learning how to make compost, till soil, and harvest vegetables. Throughout the day, the resort also offers a multitude of seasonal experiences to keep you busy, such as kayaking, crafting himmeli ornaments, making your own herbal tea, and snowshoe tours and snow cycling on Mt. Jeans Nasu (in the winter.) As parent company Hoshino Resorts is a family-friendly brand, kids are also invited to join in on the fun or spend time in a play area outfitted with a ball pit, climbing wall, and cargo net.
In your downtime, unwind at the indoor-outdoor onsen facilities to feel the healing powers of the hot springs, or head over to the spa for a relaxing treatment. Dining options include Shaki Shaki, (the name is onomatopoeia for the crunchiness of fresh vegetables), which serves a buffet of Japanese and Western dishes for breakfast and dinner; Poko Poko for easy lunches of build-your-own pizzas and ice cream; and Otto Sette, a dinner-only Italian restaurant featuring a multi-course tasting menu utilizing seasonal ingredients from the property and local vendors.