The ancient Japanese tradition of ‘shinrin-yoku’, or forest bathing, has soared in popularity in the past year, thanks to a renewed appreciation for silence, meditation and connecting with nature. Celebrating that connection is Shishi-Iwa House, a restorative retreat that blends seamlessly into its woodland backdrop in the Japanese resort town of Karuizawa.
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, the 10-room boutique hotel opened its doors last month. The retreat uses design to explore and restore the relationship between people and the natural world.
“The genesis of Shishi-Iwa House began with an interest to use architecture as a means to provide a peaceful sanctuary and a place for intellectual creativity. The retreat aims to be a place to reflect and restore energy, and in turn, spark new ways of thinking for our guests,” said Huy Hoang, CEO of HDH Capital Management.
Located in the tranquil woodlands of Karuizawa, a mountain resort town known for its skiing, hot springs and golf resorts, Shishi-Iwa House is just an hour on the train from Tokyo. Popular with both domestic tourists seeking time away from their frantic urban homes and international travellers looking for an alternative wellness experience, the idyllic setting provides an abundance of wildlife for guests to immerse themselves in.
The two-storey retreat uses a curvilinear form to replicate the flow of the forest so the indoor and outdoor spaces remain connected. Lead architect and designer Ban sourced natural materials and techniques, focussing on sustainability throughout the project.
“For this project, I was interested in developing a distinct design language befitting to its beautiful location,” said Ban. “Everything from the construction to the furniture and interior detailing was carefully planned and considered to achieve a bespoke atmosphere. Blending the interior and exterior spaces, we created unique openings in the guest rooms and social areas to allow the best views of the garden and encourage outdoor access. Timber was our material of choice for the design, which is used to heighten the sense of warmth and coherence throughout the boutique retreat.”
Offering both private and social space, Shishi-Iwa House has 10 guest rooms among its three villas, along with communal spaces such as the Library, Reception Room, Grand Room, and Catering Kitchen. The resort’s garden features over 250 trees, including evergreens and cherry blossoms, and the private balconies in each room offer views across the gardens and mountains.
The attention to detail doesn’t stop at the architecture: the tableware is by Miyama, one of Japan’s oldest traditional ceramic makers; the bedding, towels and robes are by premium bed-ware brand Ploh; and bathroom amenities have been selected from German brand Stop The Water While Using Me! which are 100% natural and biodegradable.
Head of Project Development Phillip Wang added: “Shishi-Iwa House is built to embrace the notion of social hospitality, which sets the property apart from typical hotel experiences. Rather than only focusing on the private spaces, all areas beyond the rooms are designed for guests to make discoveries and gain new connections. Unique in its architecture, the property is planned to accommodate both individual travellers and groups, where they can choose to take over a terrace villa or the entire hotel, but still be able to enjoy privacy in their own rooms. We are extremely privileged to be working with visionary architect Shigeru Ban to realise this one-of-a-kind project.”