Japanese spas may be synonymous with hot tubs and mineral springs, but now
a cache of forward-thinking operators are uniting traditional relaxation rituals with
modern techniques and facilities, as Natasha Dragun discovers.
1. The Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto
One of Kyoto’s newest hotels enjoys one of the city’s best locations, on the banks of the Kamo River with unbroken views of the Higashiyama mountain range. Impeccably styled rooms and suites are fitted with Japanese artwork, handmade soaps and tea sets for windowside ceremonies. Really, the only reason you should drag yourself away is for an authentic experience of Japanese spas; a calming union of cool stone, teak and water features.
If you’re looking to bliss out, book the ‘Ryokucha Serenity Ritual’, using antioxidant-rich tea leaves plucked locally; to relieve weary muscles, ‘Higashiyama Vigor’ involves pressurepoint massage using volcanic stones and ESPA oils infused with botanical and marine extracts; and to improve flexibility and joint movement there’s the ‘Kyoto Bamboo Ritual’, which, as its name suggests, sees therapists use warmed bamboo sticks to stretch and elongate tight muscles.
2. The Spa at Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Kyoto
On the outskirts of Kyoto on the banks of the emerald Hozu River, Suiran is designed in the style of the city’s traditional ryokan inns. Japanese maples and bonsai trees ring pebbled courtyards, and some rooms come with private gardens, replete with deep hinoki soaking tubs.
The spa also features two private open-air bathing facilities – ‘Raku’ (made of cypress) and ‘An’ (carved into rock) – both offering enviable views over Kyoto’s templedotted Arashiyama bamboo grove and drawing upon waters from a hot spring of the same name.
The spa menu revolves around indigenous rituals and beliefs: zuko, a Japanese incense used by monks, is employed to cleanse and purify during your treatment, which might involve a green tea body scrub, jade massaging stones and tea seed oil prepared in accordance with the lunar cycle.
3. Izumi Spa & Onsen Hakone at Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort and Spa
Shaped by lava flows over tens of thousands of years, Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park begins in the foothills of Mount Fuji and spills south through Hakone, around 100 kilometres southwest of Tokyo. Thanks to its volcanic history, the region is home to more than 2300 hot springs, which Izumi Spa makes the most of at its slick base in the mountain lodge-style Hyatt Regency hotel.
Here, a therapeutic soak in mineral-rich waters is a relaxing prelude to body wraps incorporating organic indigenous plants known for their healing properties. House-made vegetable and fruit oils are concocted from potent extracts of blueberry, raspberry and avocado, all high in antioxidants to deeply hydrate the skin. Don’t miss the ‘Flower Therapy’, using rose and bergamot to restore hormonal balance and lift up the spirit.
4. Aman Spa at Aman Tokyo
In a city where luxury hotels abound, the first Aman property in Japan, set high in the Otemachi Tower, is hard to fault. Australian architect Kerry Hill has managed to capture a sense of place from the moment you step into Aman Tokyo’s 33rd-floor lobby, an aesthetic that is carried through to the serene spa; think sliding wooden doors, washi paper screens, deep soaking tubs and elegant kimono-clad staff.
While it’s tempting to just enjoy the views of Mount Fuji from the infinity pool, it would be a shame to miss out on a treatment. All begin with misogi, the age-old act of purification and meditation using water to reconnect with one’s core, complemented by the philosophy of kampo, a Japanese therapy derived from classical Chinese medicine using natural herbs.
My pick? The traditional massage that incorporates anma techniques and stretching movements to improve circulation, and ampuku, an abdominal massage to balance organs.
5. Aman Spa at Amanemu
It may not be the most obvious choice of locations for Aman’s second Japanese property, but lazy Ago Bay on Honshu’s Kii Peninsula feels like the perfect fit for this serene resort. Known for its oyster rafts and islets, the area is also famed for its mineral springs, and Amanemu makes the most of these at its sprawling spa complex, where terraces of tiled hot pools are interspersed with daybeds and an outdoor fireplace.
After a sauna or soak in an onsen, book in for treatments that draw on Japanese principles of kampo herbal healing. Rituals can last from one hour to multi-day tailored Wellness Immersions, with the latter incorporating specialised diets with the likes of shiatsu massage, acupuncture, yoga and watsu (water) therapy to minimise the effects of stress, reduce tension and cultivate mindfulness, and zazen meditation to improve digestion and lymphatic drainage.
6. AO Spa at Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills
Rooms at this boutique hotel atop the Toranomon Hills skyscraper come with jaw-dropping views over the Tokyo Tower and the Imperial Palace. If you can tear your gaze away, you’ll be rewarded with design features including moss-coloured carpeting reminiscent of a Zen garden, woodblock prints and deep circular soaking tubs nodding to Japanese bathing culture.
The fact that the fragrance of amenities is seasonal gives you some idea of the importance placed on aromatherapy here, a philosophy that carries through to the cloud-like AO Spa. Arrive early, because each ritual involves customised products created in the Jiyujizai Apothecary Experience, where oils and scrubs are made from herbs, fruits, minerals and oils according to your goals for the treatment.
A highlight is the ‘Traditional Healing’, which begins with sound therapy to clear your aura, followed by a body scrub of green tea, jojoba beads and bamboo, and a meridian-line massage using organic shea butter and tea seed oil.
This article appeared in volume 29 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.