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Elegance in a hot tub

Japan's newest ryokans and onsen resorts offer modern-day comfort and contemporary design - with splashes of minimal Japanese aesthetics.

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With only 24 suites and four two-bedroom villas - each with its own onsen and spacious grounds - the Amanemu (above) promises to bring new meaning to the Japanese ryokan and onsen.

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With only 24 suites and four two-bedroom villas - each with its own onsen and spacious grounds - the Amanemu (above) promises to bring new meaning to the Japanese ryokan and onsen.

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The Zaborin Ryokan (above) boasts contemporary architecture and interiors and sheer exclusivity on the edge of the ski resort Niseko.

Zaborin Ryokan, Hokkaido

This much-anticipated luxury ryokan, opened in June, has been making the pages of travel magazines, for its contemporary architecture and interiors and sheer exclusivity on the edge of the ski resort Niseko.

The unobstructed views are equally breathtaking, as the ryokan sits beautifully in the surrounding Hanazono woods. It may feel remote but is great for those longing for a tranquil stay, and is just a short shuttle ride from Niseko.

Only 15 villas have been built, and each comes with its own private indoor and an outdoor onsen, or hot spring bath - with hot spring water pumped directly from the Zaborin onsen. Perfect especially in winter for luxuriating after a hard day at the ski slopes, although the resort is open all year round.

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The retreat even uses the volcanic spring water as a natural source of energy for heating the floors and for melting the snow and ice off the driveway. In summer, energy from the hot spring water cools the rooms and the wine cellar.

Some of the villas have traditional tatami mats and futons - with luxurious bedding, natch - and their own private courtyard. But each has modern amenities too, such as a flat-screen TV and high-end bath products.

And what's a ryokan without kaiseki? The Zaborin restaurant offers Japanese-style fine dining using seasonal local produce; there is also a teppanyaki restaurant, a tea lounge and a bar.

Amanemu, Ise Shima National Park

On the back of the launch of Aman Tokyo last December, the Aman group of luxurious resorts is opening its second property in Japan in the first quarter of next year.

This time, it is a ryokan-style retreat and is the group's first onsen resort. The hotel's location can't be beat, as it sits on the shores of the twinkling Ago Bay, or the Bay of Pearls, on the Shima Peninsula, about 300 kilometres south-west of Tokyo.

With only 24 suites and four two-bedroom villas - each with its own onsen and spacious grounds - the hotel promises to bring new meaning to the Japanese ryokan and onsen.

It blends traditional and modern design, with contrasting blond wood and dark stone materials, and warm lighting.

The renowned Aman Spa will have two onsen pavilions here, as well as a watsu (Japanese water therapy) pool, four treatment suites, a gym and a yoga studio.

At the restaurant, guests can savour the area's gourmet heritage called miketsukuni, an imperial Japanese cuisine, as well as mouth-watering seafood and the region's Matsusaka Ushi variety of Wagyu beef - foodies, take note.

Activities include rounds at the nearby 18-hole championship golf course and of course, exploring the country's most sacred Shinto shrines - the Ise Shrines - and the Unesco-listed Kumano Kodo ancient pilgrimage routes.

Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Kyoto

Opened in March this year by the Starwood Hotels & Resorts, this serene 39-room hotel sits on part of the grounds of the World Heritage site Tenryuji Temple, in the Arashiyama district in western Kyoto.

The upscale accommodations are inspired by traditional ryokan; part of the site once housed "Rantei", an upscale traditional inn from the 1960s that played host to VIP guests of the Japanese government.

Its location right on the banks of the Katsura River means that it commands beautiful views of the Arashiyama Hills, which is home to the other-worldly Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

The hotel's contemporary luxury is very much of this world, however, with rooms that are huge for Japanese standards, ranging from 500 to 1,000 square feet. Each room offers comfortable bedding, modern amenities and a seating area with low floor chairs.

Guests can head into the city, a 15-minute train or taxi ride away, or explore the area's famous sights, such as the Togetsukyo Bridge. For a fee, the hotel even offers rickshaw and flat-bottomed boat rides in the area.

They can also treat themselves to in-room treatments with the hotel's private spa service or relax in the treatment rooms that have Japanese-style onsen or open-air baths.

Two historic buildings on the grounds have also been preserved and restored, and are now the hotel's restaurant and cafe.