October 14, 2020

Traditional Japanese Hospitality with a Modern Take

a darkened room with a traditional Japanese bed
Traditional Japanese ryokans feature tatami-matted floors. As part of their experience, guests can choose to spend a night sleeping like historic inn-visitors. Photography by Hitomi Kishi. 

A direct descendant of Samurai warriors, Nobuyuki Kishi, CEO of Kishike Co. Ltd., wanted to share the ancient principles of Japanese hospitality that have been passed down along generations in his family. While working in Japan’s equivalent of Silicon Valley, an image of Kishi’s late grandfather appeared to him. “I was reminded of when he first taught me about chisoku,” Kishi recounts, explaining that chisoku means “to know satisfaction” when translated literally but is commonly used to reference the concept of feeling holistically fulfilled. A powerful moment, this reconnection with chisoku prompted Kishi to create a full-service Japanese ryokan, rooted in the traditions of his ancestors.

a black-roofed building in front of a grassy lawn
A view of the reception building from the ground floor of the guest house. Photography by Daisuke Shima. 

Located meters from the beach in the coastal city of Kamakura, Modern Ryokan kishi-ke is a retreat comprised of two buildings—one for reception, one for the guests’ stay—and multiple gardens to create an experience steeped in both serenity and luxury. A practicing Zen Buddhist, Kishi partnered with architect Ryohei Tanaka and interior designer Hitomi Kishi to translate Zen philosophies into tactile spaces. Using natural materials that connect the space and its guests to the surrounding outdoor elements, clean lines and a minimalist sensibility define Modern Ryokan kishi-ke.

a zen garden at the entrance to a guest house
Guests pass through a Zen garden en route from the reception building to the guest house. Photography by Hitomi Kishi. 

The parred down aesthetic enables every detail to command attention. Up to four guests are able to stay at Modern Ryokan kishi-ke at a time with itineraries handled by the staff, beginning with a tea ceremony upon arrival. “Guests learn how to become a proper host,” Kishi explains about how amenities are built into the design of the guest villa. For example, the kitchen is outfitted with all equipment and necessary ingredients for the Shojin cuisine cooking class, where guests make their own plant-based omakase dinner.

a living area inside a guest house with custom wood accents
Many of the custom wood furnishing provided by SANSUI-SHA Co., Ltd are over 100 years old. Photography by Hitomi Kishi.

Tradition Meets Modernity

The main gathering space in the guest house is designed with ample room for hosting traditional tea ceremonies. “We don’t just show them how to drink the tea,” Kishi begins, “we bring in professional masters to demonstrate how it’s done properly.” The traditional Gyokuro tea used in ceremonies was Kishi’s grandfather’s favorite, if not matcha, and the variety of dark wood elements that adorn the sliding dividing door between the kitchen and ceremony space are repurposed pieces of old furnishings from the home Kishi and his grandfather shared.

a Japanese soaking tub in a guest house
The traditional Japanese soaking tub is made from hinoki cypress wood. Photography by Hitomi Kishi. 

Gyokuro tea, which typically takes a few minutes to prepare, is meant to be savored—a tradition Kishi hopes to revive given his observation that formal tea ceremonies and similar cultural practices seem to be on the decline in modern Japan. “Those experiences make people focus on the now and what’s in front of them, which leads feeling of chisaku.” And now, Kishi honors his family’s history by sharing that experience with others.

a Japanese tea house lit up at night
A nearby building off-property enables guests to experience a nighttime tea ceremony hosted by a master. Photography by Hitomi Kishi. 
wood panels line the exterior of a guest house facing the beach
The exterior of the guest house which faces the beach. Photography by Hitomi Kishi. 

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