Travel 3 minutes 03 July 2024

The Most Unique Japanese Key Hotels That Defy Categorization

Tokyo has its skyscrapers and Kyoto has its ryokan. But some of the most unique hotel forms in the world are scattered throughout Japan, a testament to the creativity and passion of its hoteliers.

Tokyo by The MICHELIN Guide

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It’s easy enough to put Japanese hotels into neat buckets. As travelers and hotel obsessives, we tend to think of Tokyo for its luxury skyscrapers and the countryside for its sublime ryokan. When we revealed the MICHELIN Guide’s first Key distinctions for the most outstanding hotels in Japan, each of these forms was well represented. But so too were a number of hotels, scattered throughout the archipelago, that simply defy categorization.

Accommodations below illustrate the power of relentless personality in the world of hotels. Represented are places in Tokyo and Kyoto, but so too in less obvious destinations for visitors — the city of Nagoya, the islands of the Seto Inland Sea, the Ise-Shima National Park — that most travelers might never put on their bucket list, much less their itinerary. Until now. At least, that’s our hope.



Izumo Hotel the Cliff
Izumo Hotel the Cliff

Izumo Hotel The Cliff
Kumura, Japan

There’s little we can tell you about Izumo Hotel the Cliff that will do any better at capturing your imagination than the image above. So we’ll stick to the logistics. This is a hotel with only eight accommodations (plus a single villa bookable in its entirety). Each room is cut into the cliff and referred to — accurately — as a private cave. The rooms are just ten meters from the waves of the Sea of Japan, each with its own terrace and jacuzzi, and above them is the restaurant. Also on-site: a sauna exclusive to hotel guests. What else do you need?

Book Izumo Hotel The Cliff on the MICHELIN Guide →


Benesse House
Benesse House

Benesse House
Naoshima, Japan

Before we get to the hotel, you should know that the Benesse Art Site is simply a wonder. Here, countless installations are spread between a series of islands in the Seto Inland Sea, their modernist forms in constant interplay with the natural landscapes. We could list all the works you’ll find here (including by Claude Monet and James Turrell), but that would take all day — and we need to get to the hotel.

The hotel itself makes its home across four different locations on Naoshima Island, including one within a Tado Ando-designed building accurately named Oval, and one in an actual art museums. Hotel guests can expect special privileges, including unlimited reentry to particular exhibits and special hours to access the museum after it’s closed.

Book Benesse House on the MICHELIN Guide →


Setouchi Retreat AONAGI
Setouchi Retreat AONAGI

SETOUCHI RETREAT by Onko Chishin
Matsuyama, Japan

Yes, it’s another hotel for Tado Ando. And like Benessee House, this too is a place that feels a lot like sleeping in an art museum. It was just that in a former life, but today it’s the site of two beautiful, minimalist buildings and a long infinity pool overlooking the Seto Inland Sea. One guest room has its own onsen, another has its own wood balcony and garden. All are as dreamy as the resort itself, which is filled with works from other renowned minimalistists.

Book SETOUCHI RETREAT by Onko Chishin on the MICHELIN Guide →


Genji Kyoto
Genji Kyoto

Genji Kyoto
Gionmachi, Japan

Japan’s ryokan are famous. But Machiya, another traditional Japanese form — long, narrow, traditional wooden townhouses — are less known and more unique to Kyoto. Genji Kyoto pays tribute to their history, with the architect’s primary goal to keep the original proportions of the machiya that made its home here before the hotel. The rest of the hotel’s inspiration comes from the 1,000-year-old novel the Tale of Genji, with tributes in the form oof gardens, sculptures, and art by Kyoto artists in each room that reinterprets the story.

Book Genji Kyoto on the MICHELIN Guide →


The Tower Hotel Nagoya
The Tower Hotel Nagoya

The Tower Hotel Nagoya
Kyoto, Japan

To our knowledge, this is the only hotel in the world that’s inside a TV tower. Nagoya’s 1954-vintage television tower is a special landmark to this city, and it has today new life as a hotel. In some rooms, the tower’s iron support beams actually cut diagonally through rooms — while views look out onto the nearby park. One room actually invites guests to sleep in an art gallery, but each accommodation is a wonderful mix of vibrant and industrial, adorned with work by local artists as well as the occasional support beam,

Book The Tower Hotel Nagoya on the MICHELIN Guide →


Shishi-Iwa-House
Shishi-Iwa-House

SHISHI-IWA-HOUSE Karuizawa
Karuizawa, Japan

Here, in the woods an hour outside Tokyo, is a testament to just what can happen when you give total creative control to two of the best at their craft. At Shishi-Iwa-House, two Pritzker-award winning architects create their fantasy version of a hotel. Known as SSH, it’s more or less three different hotels in close proximity: two of the buildings were designed by Architect Shigeru Ban, with the third by Ryue Nishizawa.

Between the three spaces are some 25 rooms in wood and glass structures that seem to float above and snake through the forest, incorporating materials and furniture of unprecedented quality. For one of his buildings, Ban surveyed the site and asked for a painstaking map of all 260 trees in his way, including their measurements. He then designed a hotel to flow naturally around them.

Book SHISHI-IWA-HOUSE Karuizawa on the MICHELIN Guide →


JANU Tokyo
JANU Tokyo

JANU Tokyo
Tokyo, Japan

Janu Tokyo is the first of its kind, the flagship of a new brand that’s a sister to the world-famous Aman Resorts. If the Amans are known for their incredible privacy and seclusion, Janu is meant to be a touch more playful. We’re including it here since it’s the first of a new form, but also for its staggering take on modern luxury. Case in point: no less than eight dining venues, including a lively Italian emporium, a Patisserie with baked goods to-go, and a gorgeous, minimalist bar.

The wellness space is among the largest gyms in the city, a beautifully serene space home to group classes as well as private spa houses.

Book JANU Tokyo on the MICHELIN Guide →


Top image: Izumo Hotel the Cliff

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