Masuichi Kyakuden in Nagano Prefecture, Japan

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A sleekly designed boutique hotel housed in a network of old Japanese buildings in the heart of Obuse, in Nagano Prefecture. This is perhaps one of Japan’s prettiest towns, famed for its delicious chestnuts, summer flower gardens and ties to the artist Hokusai.

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Location

In the small but perfectly formed town of Obuse, surrounded by the mountains of Nagano Prefecture (it takes about two hours on two trains from Tokyo). The hotel forms part of Obusedo – an impeccably restored network of centuries-old buildings run by the Ichimura family, including a sake brewery, several restaurants and chestnut confectioners, as well as the hotel.

It’s pleasant 10-minute stroll from the train station, and the atmosphere is exquisite: there are old wooden gates, curved roof tiles, dark timber merchant stores, pathways made of chestnut wood and (outside the snowy winter months) blooming gardens. The Hokusai Museum is just opposite the hotel – a legacy of the famed Japanese artist visiting for extended periods as a guest of the Ichimura family’s 19th-century ancestor, Takai Kozan.

Address:815 Obuse-machi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.

Style & character

With only 12 rooms scattered through seven rustic buildings, Masuichi Kyakuden feels more like an elegant rural retreat than a hotel (albeit one with a very stylish interior).

Masuichi Kyakuden via SIW – blogger

While the exteriors are resolutely traditional (some of the buildings are old sugar mills that have been painstakingly transplanted from across Nagano), the interiors are cool and contemporary with an air of understated luxury, courtesy of designer John Morford (also behind Park Hyatt Tokyo interiors). There are stone floors, black timber, high ceilings, abstract ceramics, modernist black seating and internal gardens with carp ponds and bamboo.

Service & facilities

The staff occasionally struggle with English, but all the same they are attentive and friendly, ever willing to guide guests through the maze of pretty pathways. The hotel also has a library housed in a centuries-old storage room with an excellent selection of design, culture and art books.

Practically on its doorstep are two museums – the Hokusai Museum and the Takai Kozan Memorial Museum – plus countless pretty chestnut sweet shops, restaurants and the Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery shop, with a tasting counter where you must be sure not to miss the beautiful metal bottles custom-designed by MUJI art director Kenya Hara.

  • Restaurant
  • Wi-Fi

Rooms

While each of the 12 rooms are different in layout, they all share the same understated luxe style, with expanses of elegant dark wood, minimal wall panelling, chestnut-dyed fabric, taupe paintwork, crisp white sheets, underfloor heating and angular shafts of light.

Masuichi Kyakuden via the ryokan

Many also have small internal gardens with bamboo or chestnut trees. The bathrooms are ultra-modern havens, with spacious Japanese baths with sides of glass rather than wood or ceramic (an evening soak feels like a dip in a small pool). Echoes of Hokusai’s legacy lie in images of his artworks next to the entrance of each guestroom door.

Food & drink

Food is taken seriously here, where the culinary offerings extend to three restaurants and a sweets café. For lunch, there is The Club Restaurant: a heavy door in a centuries-old building opens to reveal a space filled with black timber, shafts of light, and smoky cooking smells. Lunch specials include roast beef and fish of the day, with sides such as chestnut rice (with an expansive sake menu to match).

Dinner in the elegant and contemporary Obusedo restaurant consists of a delicious, seasonal, kaiseki-style banquet of several courses, mostly based around locally grown vegetables and chestnuts.

Breakfast, meanwhile, is a gentile affair in the San Poo-Loh restaurant, with an array of table-served eggs, fresh breads and local jams.

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