Karuizawa, Japan

Photo: Shishi-Iwa House

There aren’t many places where you immediately feel at ease. It has to be a good destination. Outside of the city is a solid start. It has to have a precise location. Immersed in nature with gardens bordered by a forest creates an oasis. It has to be a thoughtfully planned building. Modern, minimal, and warm are the vibes toward which you gravitate. While well-placed amenities are the icing on the cake. It feels like magic when all of these elements fall into place.

This peaceful sanctuary is a 70-minute ride from Tokyo on the Shinkansen (the bullet train). It’s in Karuizawa. The mountain town, at the base of active Mount Asama, has hosted events for both the Summer Olympic Games (equestrian sports in 1964) and the Winter Olympic Games (curling in 1998). Its enclosed gardens features 250 trees, including an 80-foot elm. Cherry blossoms, evergreens, and maples fill the bordering woods. The hotel itself is an architecture buff’s dream. Shigeru Ban designed a two-story building that has an undulating pitched roof, a snaking floor plan, and lots of natural light. No wonder he’s a Pritzker Architecture Prize winner.

You could stand outside gazing at Shishi-Iwa House for hours. That’s how striking the building is. The interior and exterior spaces perfectly blend together, though. So it’s impossible to get a sense of the whole space without stepping inside. The reception area has a double-high ceiling and timber-framed glass doors that open into the garden. Blonde wood rises into a beamed peak. A library is tucked into the mezzanine. Sake and whiskey tastings are held among the books. The semi-circular Grand Room is the heart of the hotel. Breakfast is served at the large communal table by its fireplace each morning. All of the common areas overlook sun-filled terraces and currently blooming trees.

Serenity continues to flow into 10 bedrooms. Groups of three or four form clusters off the Grand Room. Each cluster shares a kitchenette and another living room. Ground-floor rooms open directly into the garden. Upstairs rooms have balconies and hinoki tubs (traditional wooden baths) alongside a wall of windows.

After replacing your shoes with slippers at the door, you’ll find a white-and-wood room with crisp bedding and a little window desk. A glass wall leads into the cermic-tiled bathroom. The bright space feels like a treehouse hidden among the leaves. A sense of calm, something that’s been greatly missing from your life lately, washes over you. This is exactly what you need right now.


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