Karuizawa in Nagano prefecture is one of the renowned resorts of Japan, ever-popular as a summer retreat, or for enjoying the foliage turning colors in autumn and a soothing soak in onsen hot spas in wintertime. Accessible from Tokyo by a 1-hour Shinkansen ride, it is a popular destination abound with attractions for those who appreciate nature, gastronomy, and even fine art.
From JR Karuizawa station, a fifteen-minute drive will take you to the Naka-Karuizawa area where Shishi-Iwa House is located. A boutique hotel designed by the world-renowned and Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban, the gracefully curving wooden structure stands nestled in its natural setting, as if flowing with the movement of the surrounding woodland.
Soft light fills the Library and Reception Room, where guests are first shown in for check-in. The imposing 8-meter-high ceiling and wooden-framed glass doors, the largest of its kind in Japan, characterize this lofty but cozy space. A staircase leads to the balcony-like mezzanine built along the walls, where a selection of books on art, design, and gastronomy line the shelves, as well as a choice of rare vintage whiskey available upon request―all a part of the hotel’s refined hospitality, for the most discerning of guests.
Many of the hotel furnishings and lighting are also designed by Ban. Harmonizing with the warm texture of wood are his paper tube elements that are incorporated throughout, a signature feature known in his innovative “cardboard architecture” that he conceptualized and introduced to the world in the 90s.
The ten guestrooms in the two-story hotel building are grouped into three “clusters” that each share a kitchen and a living room space. A cluster can be shared by multiple families or groups, and as Karuizawa is a rich source of fresh local ingredients, guests may choose to prepare meals in the fully-equipped kitchenette for a home-away-from-home stay experience.
The clusters are built around the Grand Room, and a door in the living room space gives guests direct access to this spacious public hall. The property is planned so that guests can enjoy the hotel stay in three layers, free to move about between the public space and the more intimate quarters of the clusters, while also enjoying complete privacy in the individual rooms. In the concept of “social hospitality,” Shishi-Iwa House focuses not only on the private spaces of the guestrooms, but on the areas beyond privacy that are designed for new discoveries and new connections to be made.
Guests here may in fact find even more features that set Shishi-Iwa House apart from the typical resort-type accommodation. The hotel does not have a restaurant, an onsen or other luxurious spa facilities; Huy Hoang―the hotel owner and CEO of HDH Capital Management based in Singapore―says this was a “big challenge” for a hotel business in a resort area, but rather hopes guests will enjoy the Karuizawa attractions to the full by visiting a public onsen facility a walking distance away, and savor cuisine prepared by local chefs in nearby restaurants or by catering services that are available to host private dinners or professional functions at the hotel.
[Continue to Part 2]