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LOW-KEY: Noku Kyoto's facade is minimalist to blend in with its neighbours.

LOW-KEY: Each room is uniquely decorated with artifacts that tell a story about the city.

LOW-KEY: The hotel rooms feature headboards painted with different traditional Japanese motifs.

LOW-KEY: Lobby where the cafe run by Maeda Coffee, a half-century old Kyoto institution, is located.

Kyoto insider

Upscale boutique hotel Noku Kyoto wants its guests to experience the city's rich culture and history, starting with the artisans in the neighbourhood.
11/06/2016 - 05:50

YOU'D be forgiven for missing Noku Kyoto. Owned by homegrown property and hospitality group Roxy-Pacific Holdings Limited, its minimalist facade distinguishes it little from the other buildings in the area.

But there is a good reason the otherwise sleek boutique hotel with its modern wooden interiors has chosen to stay low-key and blend in with the neighbours instead of announcing itself as the new kid on the block.

Kyoto, by and large, has been known to be resistant to gentrification and is fiercely protective - and proud - of its traditions. While Tokyo and Osaka race to see who can look more like a scene out of Blade Runner faster, Kyoto is contented to stop the clock and slow things down just a little.

It's for this reason the former capital of Japan has been voted the world's best city for two years in a row by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine. The 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites, historic shrines and shojin ryori (the vegetarian cuisine that originated from Japanese Zen temples) provide visitors with the quintessential Japanese experience and a crash course on everything they want to know about the Land of the Rising Sun.

Noku Kyoto is a good starting point to explore the city. Its proximity to the Imperial Palace - a mere five-minute stroll - puts its guests at the heart of 1,000 years of Japanese history, while lending the hotel's address a certain cachet.

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Rooms on the upper floor enjoy a view of the Imperial Gardens and the six-storey property, which opened last November, is also near key tourist spots such as Shimogamo Shrine, Nishijin Textile District and Teramachi Street shopping district.

To venture further, Marutamachi subway station - four stops away from Kyoto Station for bullet trains to Osaka, Tokyo and beyond - is right at the 81-room hotel's doorstep.

But Noku Kyoto's primary aim really is for its guests to feel the heart and soul of the neighbourhood; and it does so by including a map in every room marked with local haunts such as restaurants, cafes, museums and souvenir shops that are within walking distance.

Each is recommended by the hotel's staff and chances are, you won't find them listed in a typical tourist guide book.

That allows guests to have an authentic localised experience - a trend that is growing quickly among a new generation of travellers; and the concept will be a cornerstone of the Noku Roxy brand which Roxy-Pacific has launched with this property.

Those staying at the hotel don't even need to leave its premises to feel Kyoto's artisanal spirit. The basic but comfortable and spacious rooms - ranging from 215 to 550 sq ft - feature headboards painted with different traditional Japanese motifs and are each uniquely decorated with artifacts that tell a story about the city.

Noku Kyoto has also outsourced its F&B operations to local tenants so guests literally get a real taste of the city on-site. The lobby cafe is run by Maeda Coffee, a Kyoto institution which is almost half a century old; while Kyou Karasuma in the basement specialises in local beef.

As a premium boutique hotel, Noku Kyoto fills the void between the city's pricey ryokans and soul-less business hotels.

Its attention to details means guests discover Kyoto from the moment they check in; while the property's modest size ensures they get the all-important personalised service from the staff.

Feeling the city's pulse surely cannot get easier or better than this.

Noku Kyoto

205-1 Okura-Cho Karasuma-dori Marutamachi sagaru,

Nakagyo-Ku Kyoto-city 604-0861, Kyoto

  • The writer was a guest of Noku Kyoto