When it comes to minimalism, Japan – with its ryokan culture (simple traditional inns complete with tatami-mats, communal baths, and yukata-robe-clad guests) and Marie Kondo approach to life – literally wrote the book. And now some of the world’s best hotels are taking cues from Japan’s culture and love of minimalistic design, beauty, and bathing.
Aman Kyoto, Japan
Minimalist vibe: Set in Kyoto’s northern suburbs, minutes to the famed Golden Pavilion, Aman Kyoto is an intimate, secluded luxury resort and spa that worlds away from city life. There’s a tree-lined drive, moss-covered pathways, rushing streams, acres of forest, and natural hot springs flowing beneath, to evoke a traditional onsen bathing experience. The light-filled rooms are divided among six black and timber-latticed pavilions with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the forest. While traditional ryokan elements add to the minimal vibe: tatami mats, sliding panels, wooden ofuro tubs in the bathrooms, and a simple palette of blacks, grays, yellows.
Zen-like experience: The spa offers Japanese-inspired therapies like the traditional onsen sauna-and-bathing rituals followed by green tea or local sake and shinrin-yoku (aka forest bathing), an ancient Japanese healing technique that takes you deep into the forest to connect with nature and listen to the bird song.
The Ritz Carlton, Tokyo, Japan
Minimalist vibe: In the pulsating heart of midtown Tokyo occupying the top nine floors of the city’s tallest building, the Ritz Carlton Tokyo is luxurious modern minimalism to the max. This soaring urban oasis atop a dramatic skyscraper weaves eastern and western elements through sleek lines, warm lighting, organic materials, and a chic understated color palette of light and dark gray and brown wood. From the slick sky lobby or any vantage point, you can enjoy panoramic views of Tokyo Tower, Mount Fuji, and the bars, restaurants, and shopping hotspots of the hip Roppongi design and entertainment district. As for the luxe rooms and suites, they come with Frette linens and featherbeds, rain showers, and deep Japanese-style soaking tubs. There are also seven dining options and all draw inspiration from Japanese cuisine and tradition, including the Michelin-starred French restaurant Azure 45 and Hinokizaka where you can indulge in possibly the best kaiseki, tempura, teppanyaki, and sushi experience in Tokyo.
Zen-like experience: The Ritz Carlton Spa blends eastern and western traditions on its mission for ultimate renewal and wellness. Book in for a relaxing Sakura massage incorporating rose quartz crystals and essential oils or Zenrenity, a deeply cleaning body treatment that purifies with plant-based products and marine algae. The hotel also has a list of great activities to enhance your travel experience and immerse yourself in Japanese culture, think sake tasting, traditional tea ceremonies and Ikebana, learning the art of Japanese flower arrangement. In class you’ll explore ikebana’s Buddhist origins as 7th-century altar offerings, examine its importance in modern culture and try your hand at your own arrangement.
Ten Thousand Waves, Santa Fe, USA
Minimalist vibe: Inspired by his love of Japanese bathing culture and Japan’s great mountain onsens (hot springs) Ten Thousand Waves, Sante Fe founder Duke Klauck opened this now-iconic 20-acre retreat on the outskirts of Sante Fe in the ’80s. Everything about this 14-room spa and wellness resort pays homage to Japanese culture and minimalism, from the architecture and design to the traditional outdoor bathing tubs and upscale sake restaurant. Alas are no cherry blossoms to marvel at during long outdoor soaks, however, the scent of sage, pinions, and the fairy-tale glow from hundreds of flickering lanterns will transport you to the land of the rising sun.
Zen-like experience: Book into a private soaking suite, with outdoor Japanese slate, wooden tubs, private sauna, cooling berth (with mattress), and sit-down shower complete with wooden bucket and ladle. End each day with a massage performed by a therapist trained by a Japanese master, before picking up izakaya (small plates paired with sake) at Izanami, the hotel’s upscale restaurant. You could also embrace the minimalism vibe by booking one of the ‘Zen’ rooms, it has a Sachi organics platform bed and courtyard (yep that’s it). Or up the ante with an Emperor’s suite, complete with living and dining rooms, sliding shoji wall, and fireplace.
Nobu Ryokan, Malibu, USA
Minimalist vibe: The perfect blend of Japanese minimalism, tranquility and design, and cool Californian coastal charm, Nobu Ryokan is a luxe resort that honors Japan while paying tribute to its exclusive locale on Malibu’s high-end Carbon beach. Designed by Todd Avery Lenahan (founder of TAL Studio), the intimate, adult-oriented, 16-room retreat is an exercise in traditional Japanese ryokan with its tatami mats, teak soaking tubs, and custom-made yukata robes. Expect jaw-dropping views over the Pacific Ocean or a zen-inspired garden from your room.
Zen-like experience: Slip out of your linen yukata robe and into the outdoor teak soaking tub on the ipe wood deck to overlook the sea while sipping a cup of steaming hot green tea. Evening dining is steps away, at cult Japanese restaurant Nobu, and as a hotel guest, you get priority reservations. Go for the signature sashimi tacos or lobster ceviche.
Kudadoo Maldives Private Island, Maldives
Minimalist vibe: Stunning Indian Ocean views with a touch of Japan awaits at the newish Kudadoo Maldives Private Island resort designed by Japanese-born NY-based architect Yuji Yamazaki. With its roots firmly in Japanese ryokan style and culture, there are just 15 villas, all cedar, privately positioned over the sea just steps away from soaking pleasure (either in the ocean or your own private tub). Other more Western worldly pleasures include a champagne-stocked bar and around-the-clock butler to carry out the hotel’s, ‘anything, anytime, anywhere’ mantra.
Zen-like experience: Aside from the endless sea views, a highlight of each villa is Yamazaki’s meticulously designed bathing area featuring a stand-alone soaking tub set atop white stepping stones surrounded by green plants and offset by a decadent outdoor rain shower. Bliss.
Shou Sugi Ban House, Water Mill, New York
Minimalist vibe: A luxe Japanese-inspired spa and wellness retreat, Shou Sugi Ban House, a first of its kind in the Hamptons, is the brainchild of Amy Cherry-Abitbol, a US lawyer turned entrepreneur, who spent much of her childhood in Japan. Embodying the spirit and principles of wabi-sabi – the acceptance of transience and imperfection through exploration – the property has13 Zen-like studios all with a gas fireplace, soaking tub, garden patio, and organic bedding. Focused on integrated wellness, guests indulge in healing-arts practices, holistic treatments, spirituality, hydrotherapy, meditation, and traditional tea ceremonies. Eating is also ‘clean’ thanks to an elevated plant-based menu by Chef Mads Refslund, co-founder of two-time Michelin-star winner, Noma, Copenhagen.
Zen-like experience: In Japan, Shou sugi ban refers to a traditional craft of preserving wood by scorching it with flames, then scraping it with oil. Observe examples of this ancient art on the walls in the spa reception area, dining room, and tea lounge. Savor too, ample time in nature: early-morning beach walks, strolls through the resort’s Japanese-inspired gardens – disconnecting from daily life; returning to the simplicity of self.