Just-opened The Thousand Hotel Kyoto is so fresh you can still smell the pale paint and feel the uncertainty and enthusiasm of its newly hired and helpful staff. It adds a new level of sophistication to Kyoto's otherwise rather drab mid-range hotels in a city that has recently seen a spate of more luxury hotel openings. For the moment it's tranquil, but as word spreads the 222 rooms are bound to fill up. The hotel has two restaurants, a spa and (oddly in this setting) a wedding chapel.
This convenient hotel for train travellers is plumb beside Kyoto's soaring multi-storey train station – some rooms have rather thrilling outlooks over the shinkansen (bullet train) platforms. The station is something of an attraction in itself, with its Japanese busyness, inspiring sci-fi architecture, shopping mall and multiple dining options.
You feel as if you're in some kind of futuristic temple as you glide into this hotel down a gold-lit corridor that culminates in a wavy art installation of billowing gauze. You emerge into a vast hotel atrium of the sort favoured in the 1960s, but this is a sleek 21st-century reimagining. The hotel is all dim lighting and soft greys, swathed in pale wood with glass and metal accents. The wood panelling and stone floors are reminiscent of old Japanese ryokans or restaurants, and there are clever outlooks through glass into tiny courtyards that display water, bamboo and bonsai. In short, there's a very Japanese sensibility in this resolutely contemporary interior.
If you've been in cramped Japanese rooms for a while, you'll feel yourself happily unfolding here – even the standard rooms are 36 square metres, with enough space for a table and sofa (perhaps more accurately described as a window seat). Lights and curtains are controlled from an iPad. The Japanese tea set in the minibar is a nice touch. Generous bathrooms have rain shower and bath tub, plus a separate loo where you can explore the strange delights of high-tech Japanese toilets. Frustrating, though, that there's nowhere to hang a towel, let alone two. If your budget stretches to a Japanese-style suite, you'll get an extravagance of space and a vast bathroom with cedar tub.
A rather spartan cafe and bar manages to cleverly combine Zen and hipster sensibilities, and has a good selection of green teas and sakes from the Kyoto region. Kizahashi restaurant runs the gamut of Japanese food and has a counter where you can prop yourself and watch the chefs slicing, dicing and grilling over charcoal. The Thousand's breakfast is a delight of small-dish Japanese delicacies such as pickles, grilled fish and egg rolls. Alternatively, there's an excellent international buffet breakfast – the pastries are impressive – in Italian restaurant Scalae.
Good walkers can reach the southern part of the Eastern Hills' string of temples in 20 minutes and the city centre in 30 minutes. Otherwise, a good bus network from the train station provides easy transport to just about anywhere. Shosei-en Garden is close and often overlooked, and features traditional villas in a park-like setting.
You can't really beat a new hotel, and this one is sophisticated, stylish and a cut above other Kyoto offerings in this price range. Its station location is perfect for short visits but if you're lingering longer, you might prefer a location closer to chief sights.
570 Higashi Shiokoji-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto. Rooms from $280 a night. Phone +81 75 354 1000, see keihanhotels-resorts.co.jp
The muted colour palette, natural materials and sympathetic lighting are soothing and very Zen. No bling, just considerable style.
Is there one? It remains to be seen how this hotel will wear, and whether staff will lose their energy (though that seems unlikely in Japan). For the moment, The Thousand is so spanking new that it doesn't even have a scratch, let alone a flaw.