A kimono-clad lady kneels over a ryureidana, or tea-ceremony table, whisking up a frothy green creation. So far, so Kyoto. But as she glides across the sleek all-white reception area to a funky soundtrack, avoiding the leather cube chairs, it's clear this isn't a venerable ryokan. Welcome to Hotel Screen, which bills itself as the city's first boutique hotel.
Until recently Kyoto's visitors had to choose between traditional inns, business hotels and the big chains. Now Hotel Screen, part of the studiedly hip Design Hotels group, is proving that small and ultramodern can carve a niche in Japan's old imperial capital.
Individuality is at the heart of this hotel's vision, with each of the 13 spacious bedrooms being the work of a different designer. In the all-white room 403, Sam Liu has draped a profusion of muslin from the ceiling, separating sitting and sleeping areas with gently billowing fabric. Approaching room 201, guests take in kimono designer Jotaro Saito's embroidery, which covers the curved external wall, before stepping into a dramatic suite of red lacquer furniture and mottled black walls.
Located just minutes from the Imperial Palace, Hotel Screen pays homage to its roots, with ancient elements given a modern twist like the wagasa (paper umbrellas) converted into delicate lobby lampshades. But it won't satisfy traditional ryokan fans, and it doesn't come cheap. Instead, this clever concoction of old and new is perfectly pitched at the growing number of design-driven travelers, who demand contemporary styling with their traditional culture and are prepared to pay for it. Rooms start from around $430. www.hotel-screen.com
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