Built during the Meiji Era, Chorakukan is a historical building embodying several different European architectural styles. Even today you can experience firsthand the history of turn-of-the-century Japan in this hotel with a cafe and restaurant operating in the Gion district of Kyoto.
The Guest House of Kyoto remains vibrantly alive today
The Chorakukan was built as a separate residence by Kichibee Murai, the Meiji era tobacco king, in 1909 and gained prominence as the guest house of Kyoto.
In addition to being designated as the lodging for ambassadors of several countries who attended the Otairei (ceremony for the enthronement of the Emperor Taisho) in 1915, several prominent Meiji era statesmen such as the first Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito, Shigenobu Okuma, and Aritomo Yamagata also spent relaxing moments here.
▲The elegant Guests Room
The entrepreneur Mr. Murai used his own resources to have the Chorakukan built in various Western architectural styles. At that time it rivaled the Rokumeikan in Tokyo in its opulence and was a place where honored guests from abroad and at home could pass the time. In recognition of its history of over 100 years and its cultural value, it was designated a Kyoto City Tangible Cultural Property in 1986.
Chorakukan is located at the east end of Kyoto Shijo-dori, close to Yasaka Shrine. If you go through the main shrine after entering from the front of the shrine, then after entering Maruyama Park turn right at the first corner and you will see the entrance of the Chorakukan.
View of the front of the Chorakukan. The imposing appearance of the brick and stone edifice still conveys the atmosphere of that time even to this day. The two columns supporting the roof of the entrance are in the Ionian style which is one of the architectural styles of ancient Greece. The columns are in a delicately feminine style.
Ornamentation above the entrance. The family crest of the Murai Family, Mitsukashiwa [three oak leaves] is in encircled in gold near the center.
If you turn around after stepping into the entrance hall you can see the beautiful stained-glass window that basks the interior in soft light.
Going into the hall you are welcomed by an expanse of red carpet leading into the lobby. In this space it is as though time has stopped and you have been taken back 100 years in time.
The Hotel Chorakukan in the new annex adjoins the main building
▲ This is the elevator you take to the guest rooms. The vivid colors of the peacock painting are very impressive.
After passing through the softly lit lobby the first thing to do is check in. Pass through the main building and head towards the Hotel Chorakukan. The Hotel Chorakukan is a new wing that was added in 2008 to the 100-year-old main building. There are three guest rooms each on the 3rd and 4th floors, six in total, offering the utmost in privacy.
The Panorama View Hollywood Twin Room, in which I stayed, is the largest and has the best view of the six guest rooms. From the room you are afforded an excellent view of Maruyama Park and the city center of Kyoto. The verdant greens in Maruyama Park and Higashiyama when I visited in the middle of August were very beautiful and a joy to look at leisurely.
The room is a spacious 53 square meters in size. There are two double beds (140 cm wide x 210 cm long) in this twin room.
▲ A white porcelain tea set made by the noted Kyoto Kiyomizu ware potter Kosan Hayashi
Attention to detail has been paid to the furnishings; the furniture, table and chairs are made of solid wood, and in addition to the Kyoto Kiyomizu ware tea set, there is also a rug woven by a famous Kyoto craftsman. The amenities are all organic products of Kyoto and thus add to the "feel" of Kyoto during your stay.
▲The rug was carefully made by the dyeing and weaving artist Mr. Jun Tomita in his studio at the foot of Kyoto's Mt. Atago.
▲The private lounge reserved for hotel guests. It is a comfortable place to relax while having coffee or tea.
▲An observation space on the 4th floor. It offers views of such prominent sights as Higashiyama, Hieizan, and Chion-in.
This is the view in the morning when you wake up. It really is quite stunning! I could also see the red torii gate of Heian Shrine. When the weather is fine you can see the northern part of the city and all the way to Kitayama in the distance. Though located in the center of Kyoto, the hustle and bustle of the city seems far away in this place that feels like a tranquil resort area.
During your stay here are places to see
You can feel the history and culture in all of the rooms in the main building, which is more than 100 years old. Here are some particularly impressive spots.
▲ The Chorakukan Boutique is open to everyone whether they are guests or not
First let’s take a look at the Chorakukan Boutique. When the place was built this was originally a greenhouse and contained many decorative indoor plants. Today it sells cookies and baked pastries handmade by the patissier of Chorakukan.
▲ Reproductions using the design of the tobacco boxes sold by Kichibee Murai. Today they contain the Murai’s Camelia brand of cookies that cost 1,200 yen (tax excluded) per box.
Continuing on we come to the Guest Room directly off the entry hall. Built in the Rococo style, it was originally used as a drawing room. In Europe, drawing rooms were primarily used by ladies for entertaining one another and were places to where they withdrew after a meal in order to converse among themselves.
Some of the tables and chairs are original pieces that have been repaired. Sitting here one gets a sense of the room’s elegance.
▲The chandelier in the Guest Room was made by the world-famous Baccarat
▲ This period fireplace is still actually used in winter
▲The Afternoon Tea Set 4,000 yen (excluding tax) (*Photo shows a service for two. Non-guests are also welcome.)
Today this room is exclusively used for afternoon tea. I highly recommend it for either before or after you check in or after you check out. You can spend an elegant afternoon here.
Last we will introduce the Chorakuan and Onari no Ma, two rooms that are not open to the public. Only guests staying at the hotel can view them. The architectural style on the 1st and 2nd floors is Western, but the rooms on the 3rd floor are purely Japanese in style. The stairway of the lobby leads up to the 3rd floor.
This is the Chorakuan tea room that was modeled after the Zangetsutei tea room in the Shoin style of the Omotesenke School. Although it is not shown in the photograph, there is a round stain glassed window which is unusual for a tea ceremony room.
▲ The Onari no Ma. The Kato Mado [window] is in the rear left
The Onari no Ma is a Japanese room in the Shoin-zukuri [traditional residential architecture] style used for formal occasions. The three-oak-leaf Murai family crest adorns the ceiling, and the staggered shelves and Katomado indicate elevated social status. The ceiling is a folded coffered ceiling, and here, too, Baccarat chandeliers are used to create a splendid fusion of Japanese and Western tastes in this space.
The name of this room, Chorakuan, which literally translates as "long enjoyment hermitage", was given to it by Hirobumi Ito when he looked out the window of the Onari no Ma towards Higashiyama and remarked, "May the pleasure last for a long time." You can strongly feel a page of history in this precious room. Please be certain to look at this room when you stay at the hotel.
Enjoy a gourmet meal in the elegant restaurant
One of the highlights of a stay at Chorakukan is the cuisine offered in its restaurants. There are two: Le Chene, which offers authentic French cuisine, and the more casual Italian restaurant Coral. I selected Le Chene in the main building.
Le Chene, on the first floor of the main building, is where the dining room originally was. The dining room is truly gorgeous in its English Victorian era neoclassic design. It evokes an image of English aristocracy.
▲ A custom-made Okura China plate with an oak leaf design based on the Murai family crest
The large chandelier hanging from the ceiling is also by Baccarat. It brightens the room with its solid, gorgeous light.
▲There are also delicate and beautiful reliefs on the ceiling and walls. The motif is one of plants, such as oak and olive
And now let’s turn our attention to the dinner! The full course consists of a number of dishes made with great attention paid to following traditional French culinary techniques in their preparation and to that of the sauces as well. Only organic vegetables grown in the Ohara region of Kyoto and neighboring Shiga Prefecture are used.
▲A variation of Pigeonneau du pays de Racan
The elegant fragrance and taste of the squab, and the tenderness of the meat, are of the highest Racan quality and exquisitely delicious. Asking the sommelier to recommend a wine to go with the cheese plate will make the moment even more blissful.
▲A composition of mi-cuit dagger-tooth pike conger and concombre with a hint of Japanese basil
The dagger-tooth pike conger has a pleasant aroma in a sauce made from local cucumbers and the dish is served with a tomato jelly. This is a dish that truly reflects the chilled flavor of Kyoto in summer.
After dinner have a drink in the relaxed atmosphere of the bar. Library Bar Madeira, as its name suggests, was originally a library. The leather sofa and chairs in this softly lit room create the perfect mood for a relaxing after-dinner drink.
The bar stocks more than 100 types of Madeira wine from Portugal, the country that introduced tobacco to Japan, a fitting tribute to Mr. Murai, the Tobacco King of Japan.
▲The dates on the bottles indicate the year they were produced
Madeira wine, born in Portugal during the Age of Exploration, is a heated and fortified wine. The wine's flavor and aroma improve with age so it holds up well over long periods of time.
Treat yourself to a glass of vintage Madeira, perhaps one several decades old or one from the year in which you were born. Let your thoughts wander as you slowly savor a glass of this wine.
Chorakukan is near Maruyama Park and Higashiyama Gion. You can feel the four seasons of nature and enjoy the many shrines and temples in this area, the whole of which is like a museum. After your stay in this historical hotel, take time to enjoy the many sights in the area.
604 Maruyama-cho, Higashiiri, Yasaka Torii-mae, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
Check-in: 3:00 p.m. ~
Check-out: ~ 12:00 p.m.
* Varies according to plans
[Room rates] Panorama View Hollywood Twin Room from 33,000 yen per person per night including two meals (tax and service extra)
* Varies depending on room type