Kyoto has always been one of my favorite cities in Japan. Personally, I think it is one of the best places to visit for first-time travelers who want to see what Japan was like back in the day.
Hence, I always try to make sure to do a day tour of Kyoto whenever I’m in the Kansai region.
Ironically enough, I never really got to spend a night in Kyoto during any of my visits. Due to its close proximity to the much bigger and busier Osaka city, more often than not, travelers like me tend to do a day trip in Kyoto and opt to stay in Osaka, which is more affordable and has a much livelier nightlife.
The contrast between Kyoto and Osaka is indeed significant. Osaka is a vibrant and bustling metropolis, while Kyoto hints at old luxury and charming, serene, traditional Japan.
Located in the heart of Gion, Kyoto, on the quiet Shinmonzen-dori street—known for its antique shops and cultural significance to fine arts—lies the family-owned luxury boutique hotel, The Shinmonzen.
Hidden in plain sight, The Shinmonzen’s discreet all-black facade blends seamlessly with the traditional houses in the area, making it easy to pass by without noticing.
And with only their signature white calligraphy on black cloth in sight, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the designs’ seemingly aristocratic facade.
But having stayed here, what you see on the exterior is not exactly how it looks inside. The warm service and cozy rooms are nowhere near the mysterious vibe it portrays on the outside.
Part of the service is getting personally picked up from the Shinkansen station or any nearby location in Kyoto.
Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by the friendliest staff you’ll ever meet.
Stepping inside the hotel, you’ll be greeted by a long corridor or receiving hallway clad in wood and concrete.
You then skip the receiving area and are led straight up to your room, where they do all the check-in formalities.
There are a total of 9 luxury suites at The Shinmonzen, all of which are spacious and contemporary in design, with a Japanese-Western aesthetic that incorporates wood and modern light tones.
All suites come in different sizes and slightly different designs, but all have private balconies overlooking the idyllic Shirakwa river.
Some of the rooms come with either Western-style raised beds or Japanese-style floor futons on tatami mats. We opted for a Western-style bed because we wanted to stay in one of their largest rooms.
We stayed for one night in their one-bedroom “Urushi” suite, which starts with an L-shaped hallway lined with simple decorative art pieces and, I kid you not, the comfiest hotel bedroom slippers I’ve ever tried.
Around the corner to your right, an expansive his-and-hers open closet with a makeup and vanity table awaits.
The room itself exudes an East-meets-West vibe, blending modern furniture with real wood and delicate paper screens to create a unique and inviting space.
Upon entering our room, we were greeted by a handwritten welcome letter, a sweet pair of mango tarts, and chilled Japanese tea on the side.
I can imagine myself sipping tea on our private balcony with an overlooking view of the serene Shirakwa River!
This was our beautiful summer view from the balcony!
And like the balcony, all suites also come with a traditional Hinoki bathtub. It’s like a modern-day onsen for your suite!
The bathroom itself is spacious and features a marble top double vanity for his and hers.
I also like how they went above and beyond with the packaging of the bathroom essentials!
It’s the small details that count!
Plus, you also get a drawer full of assorted complimentary snacks and drinks!
Lastly, you also get a yukata, which we used to explore the areas surrounding the hotel.
It was the middle of summer when we visited, and the weather was quite hot, but that didn’t stop us from wearing the yukata to explore the nearby places.
The hotel itself sits directly beside the peaceful Shirakwa River, which I heard looks best during spring and winter!
Another nearby scenic spot worth visiting is the famous Tatsumi Bridge, where some scenes from the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” were filmed.
But the highlight of the tour was when we were privately guided around the Gion district by an English-speaking curator, courtesy of the Shinmonzen, a complimentary tour offered to all check-in guests.
And since our hotel was only a few minutes’ walk away, we took our time and ended the day watching the sunset behind the iconic Yasaka Pagoda.
Located on the ground floor and having just opened this year, we were in for a treat as we got to try Chef Jean-Georges’s newest farm-to-table menu.
“Jean-Georges at the Shinmonzen”, named after its head chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, features a mix of French and Kyoto’s famously high-quality ingredients.
We’ll leave what the food looks like to your imagination, because that’s part of the fun and experience. Let’s just say that we enjoyed the food and the experience so much, we barely wanted to take any photos.
One thing’s for sure, photos don’t do it justice, and the food definitely exceeded our expectations.
For breakfast, we opted to have our food by the riverside instead of in our room so that we could enjoy our breakfast with a view to match.
We ordered a mix of American breakfast and Japanese set meals to complement each other.
Overall, I really enjoyed my short but sweet stay at the Shinmonzen. It far exceeded my expectations, even though I had read great reviews prior to checking in.
More than just the beautiful design, spacious rooms, and luxurious amenities, it was really the heartfelt service that struck me the most. (And this coming from a Filipino who is used to top-tier hospitality means a lot!)
From the moment we were picked up for check-in, until the time they dropped us off at the station to catch our train back to Osaka, we really felt like we were receiving the warmest service possible.
There were only a few staff at the hotel, but each and every one of them left a significant lasting memory during our short stay. They went above and beyond in the service that they provided.
Sure, the room with the view is one of the best rooms I’ve ever stayed at in Japan, and the food was way up there on my list, but it was the service that made us want to stay longer.
Definitely, still my favorite city in Japan, and also my new favorite home in Japan.
Live an Awesome Life,
NICO of Team Our Awesome Planet
PS: looking forward to coming back during the cooler days and when the spa opens 🙂