It’s tea ceremony time on a late autumn evening in Kyoto. A folded cloth, a wiped bowl, a scoop of matcha, a rhythmic bamboo whisk—the forest green tea is placed gently before me. The location, however, is not a tatami mat room in an ancient teahouse. Instead, I’m seated in the sleek confines of the city’s latest addition: Hotel the Mitsui Kyoto, a new Luxury Collection property from the Marriott portfolio.
The hotel is located precisely where the centuries-old Kyoto residence of the Mitsui family—the original founders of a slew of Japanese corporations—once stood. Beneath its five-star sheen and contemporary décor (by creatives including architect Akira Kuryu and Hong Kong–based Andre Fu) the new-build hotel, home to 161 rooms and two restaurants, is firmly rooted in its Kyoto heritage. Its location opposite the 17th century UNESCO-listed Nijo Castle, kimono-clad staff, hot spring onsen bathing, and that aforementioned tea ceremony remind visitors of this history.
Arriving after dark, I walk beneath the 18th century Kajiimiya Gate, with its grandly curved roof and solid wood frame (it once marked the entrance to the Mitsui estate), passing pine trees, a stone pagoda and an arc of maples en route to the Fu-designed lobby. Here, beneath a horizontal washi light, is a delicate sculpture of clay folds by artist Yukiya Izumita, leading to a lounge with ceiling installations inspired by kimono fabrics, which overlooks the hotel’s heartbeat: its garden. The hotel wraps around a modern reinterpretation of the family’s original “strolling garden,” by landscape designer Shunsaku Miyagi, with atmospheric lantern-lit water features, a weeping cherry tree, reddening maples, and stepping stones.
A young guest ambassador at the hotel, suave in a black suit, guides me to Chakyo, a modern tea ceremony room supervised by legendary Kyoto tea master So’oku Sen just off the lobby, with an asymmetric hanging flower display and large Kaikado tea tins. Here, seated at an organic walnut wood table, an am peacefully prepares a bowl of matcha. It’s a lovely way to start my stay here.
Next, I follow a tunnel-like corridor of light wood beams, a contemporary echo of Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari shrine, with its maze-like pathway of vermillion shrine gates. My second floor guest room, with close-up views of Nijo Castle, is a luxe, modern riff on traditional teahouse aesthetics: light green carpets with abstract water motifs, expanses of pale birch wood, a wabi sabi moss pot, and subtle textile panels by kimono designer Jotaro Saito above the bed.