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EXPERT REVIEW Experience Japanese culture with a modern twist at this super-green hot-springs ryokan

Eco


Overall eco rating


PREVIEW: review coming soon, but here's what we know based on preliminary research. Ratings are provisional.

Set in a lush valley below an active volcano, Hoshinoya Karuizawa harnesses geothermal heat for more than just its onsen (Japanese hot spring) and captures hydroelectricity from fast flowing mountain streams and is almost energy independent as a result.

The staff strives to be green in all areas – they sort trash into 33 recyclable categories and have banned the use of Styrofoam coffee cups and switched to long lasting LED bulbs in their efforts to obtain zero waste.

The hotel also set up an award winning non-profit conservation organisation at the hotel, Picchio, which operates research activities, wildlife management (especially for black bears) and runs a variety of nature tours for visitors (the valley is an area of outstanding natural beauty and attracts millions of visitors every year).

  • 75% energy independent through use of 3 microhydro generators
  • Water from natural hot spring – Genen-Kake-Nagashi (virgin onsen water used once and then diverted into streams) – cherished, nutrient rich hot water which is so pure it is potable
  • Geothermal heat (the largest geothermal heatpump in Japan in 2007) also used for other heating needs
  • Rooms are designed to avoid air conditioning
  • Composts their own food waste and trades for vegetables with local suppliers
  • Back office seeking 100% recycling – sort into 33 categories of waste and staff have sworn from using disposable paper, plastic or styrofoam cups
  • Not for Profit Picchio conservation programme located on site has won first prize in Japanese Ecotourism Awards – a special focus is avoiding conflict between humans and black bears through educating people and tracking and shepherding bears away from town
  • Food sourced from local Nagano prefecture itself or other regions in west of Japan where the affect of Fukushima is said to be benign
  • Brew and sell their own beer with a share of profits going to the Japanese National Trust
  • The Hoshinoya hotel group set up a scheme to donate ¥1,000 (approx $13) to Save the Children Japan to help those affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami

  • There is a missed opportunity to use some of the diverted spring water for flushing toilets but this is being investigated
  • Abundant water supply means less effort has been made to reduce water consumption

People

EcoLuxHotels’ experience of Japanese culture suggests that importance is often placed on the wellbeing of the group before individuals.  Many Japanese people also seem to have a deep respect for nature and a sense of place born out of this.  These themes are echoed in Hoshinoya’s connections to the community around them and have given birth to a range of approaches that seem innovative but are often simply the old way of doing things. Sourcing food locally, ensuring nutrients in food waste go back into the land, growing and brewing their own food and drink and learning how to live harmoniously with nature when humans and bears encroach upon one another are not new but are a better way of doing things.  Hoshinoya’s response to the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 also reflect the dignity of the Japanese people.

  • Food sourced from local Nagano prefecture itself or other regions in west of Japan where the affect of Fukushima is said to be benign
  • Links to local farmers via system of trading compost for vegetables
  • Brew and sell their own beer with a share of profits going to the Japanese National Trust
  • Education of local residents about how to avoid bear conflict (e.g. how to bear proof outdoor storage and garbage) and their work helps humans coexist with the animals and reduce conflict
  • The Hoshinoya hotel group set up a scheme to donate ¥1,000 (approx $13) for every night’s stay at their hotels to Save the Children Japan to help those affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami

Animals & nature

Picchio, the Not for Profit organisation set up by the hotel, is doing great things to help manage the conflict between bears and humans in the Karuizawa region and also seeking to capture and rehome racoons imported from North America as pets and now damaging the native ecosystem.  The project also undertakes research around the foot of Mount Asuma, the active volcano looming over the resort.

Picchio cooperates with the hotel to offer tailored educational tours by professional guides on foot and bike to investigate nature around the hotel at different times of the day and night.

PETA assessment of cruelty free credentials of cleaning products and toiletries to come.

  • Not for Profit Picchio conservation programme located on site has won first prize in Japanese Ecotourism Awards – a special focus is avoiding conflict between humans and black bears through educating people and tracking and shepherding bears away from town
  • Picchio also operate educational mountain tours for guests
  • The hotel gives to the Wild Forest Fund through purchases of their microbrewed Wild Forest beer

  • Natural handmade soaps from a local supplier have probably not been tested on animals but the manufacturer cannot demonstrate this

Environment & buildings

Hoshinoya is well on the way to be independent for energy and water and efforts to reduce waste are some of the most impressive we’ve seen.

  • 75% energy independent through use of 3 microhydro generators
  • Water from natural hot spring – Genen-Kake-Nagashi (virgin onsen water used once and then diverted) – cherished, nutrient rich hot water which is so pure it is potable
  • LED lighting reduces energy use and longer life means less waste
  • Careful monitoring of energy and water use to identify waste
  • Geothermal heat (the largest geothermal heatpump in Japan in 2007) also used for other heating needs
  • Rooms are designed to avoid air conditioning
  • Composts their own food waste and trades for vegetables with local suppliers
  • Back office seeking 100% recycling – sort into 33 categories of waste and staff have sworn from using disposable paper, plastic or styrofoam cups

  • There is a missed opportunity to use some of the diverted spring water for flushing toilets but this is being investigated
  • Abundant water supply means less effort has been made to reduce water consumption

Reviewed by Sophie Middleton, Ryan Glancy


Luxury


Overall luxury rating*


The healing waters of Hoshino, an hour northwest of Tokyo, have been soothing aches and pains for a century. After a couple of days in Japan’s frenetic capital, a stay at Hoshinoya Karuizawa is just the ticket for some zen-style relaxation and tranquility. A collection of ryokan-style houses clustered around a mountain stream, geothermal and hydro supply most of its energy and heating, pools and springs are pure, fresh water, and the resort has its own black-bear conservation project, among a bevy of other eco-initiatives.

The scene

Set in the mountains at the foot of an active volcano, Hoshinoya Karuizawa resort is a collection of low-rise cabins in a woodland and surrounded by the sound of trickling water. The cabins, restaurants, nature centre and spa are connected by a network of pine-covered footpaths. Hoshinoya offers the pleasures of camping in the wild with all the luxuries of a modern hotel. Its best suited to couples on romantic getaways and women-only weekends. The architecture takes advantage of the picturesque surroundings by offering beautiful views from nearly every vantage point.

  • picturesque rural setting
  • fairly close to public transport hubs (10 mins by taxi or 15 mins by shuttle bus)
  • great for couples seeking romantic getaways and groups of women on spa weekends

  • Quite remote, with not much to do at night

The style

The simple minimalist style encourages a zen experience, but some might find it too minimalist. Bedrooms aren't styled so much as furnished, but comfortably so, and the mood is calming. The fixtures and fittings it has are high-end and luxurious, though. 

  • Minimal décor with minimal clutter makes the rooms feel calm and luxurious
  • Furniture and finishings mimic traditional Japanese-inn style
  • Japanese style wet rooms with wooden bath tubs
  • Large windows and balconies to provide plenty of natural light

  • Minimal furniture and lack of artwork means the bedrooms feel a tad stark.

The facilities

The hotel is renowned for its natural thermal baths, and non-guests come for the day to relax. However, the Meditation Bath is exclusively for hotel guests and open 24 hours a day, with a light and dark room. Guests can also visit Tombo-no-yu, a public bath with indoor and outdoor bathing areas. Each villa has a wooden tub to enjoy the hot springs water privately, too. The resort also has an in-house spa offering a range of treatments, from mudpacks to shiatsu and acupuncture with qualified practitioners. There is also a library lounge with books (mostly Japanese), newspapers, CDs, oversized couches and complimentary herbal teas. The resort complex has several restaurants, including Japanese and French. A conservation organisation (Picchio) is nearby and runs twice-daily nature tours and some specialist tours at night too (with a chance to see flying squirrels). Morningly stretch classes (yoga-style) are provided free of charge.

  • Fantastic spa facilities, courtesy the natural thermal baths
  • Luxurious massages using organic botanical oils undertaken by qualified staff
  • Staff really look after your needs and go out of their way to make your stay comfortable – e.g. language translation for eco tours, attention to detail regarding dietry requirements and a general eagerness of staff to go out of their way to be helpful

  • The resort facilities are somewhat spaced out so if you’re not happy with walking, the resort will offer a car to link them
  • As with all Japanese onsens (hot springs), bathing costumes are not permitted and men and women bathe separately

We love

  • Wonderful spa facilities, thanks to the natural thermal springs
  • Naturally flowing water through the resort and beautifully landscaped in keeping with its woodsy surroundings
  • Lanterns on the water at dusk give a romantic glow to the scene
  • Stunning views from the room
  • Top quality service – the staff go out of their way to make sure you have everything you need.
  • The massage is highly recommended - among the best

You might not love

  • The resort is spread out, requiring long walks or use of the resort's car service
  • Naked onsen (hot springs) bathing, and in separated male and female facilities, won't appeal to some, although this is the norm in Japan, but it does slightly put a dampener on a romantic weekend away if you're spending the best part of each day apart

Reviewed by Sophie Middleton, Ryan Glancy


Hoshinoya Karuizawa

Hoshino, Karuizawa-machi, Nagano 389-0194

Japan
+81 50 3786 0066

Standard room rates from US$600

Eco

Luxury*

"The new Hoshinoya gives the traditional ryokan guesthouse aesthetic a contemporary twist, with 77 riverside cottages built on the leafy 467-acre site" Harpers Bazaar