Taisho-era hotel feels like an elegant museum that you can sleep in.

The Nara Hotel has had some pretty impressive people stay in it over the years. Built over a century ago, the list of guests includes multiple members of the Japanese imperial family, visiting presidents and prime ministers of other countries, and global luminaries such as Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Charlie Chaplain, and Audrey Hepburn.

Oh, and also us.

We recently had the chance to spend the night in the Nara Hotel, thanks to an invite from Japan Railways, its current owner. Back when the hotel opened in 1909 there was a different company managing the place, but when it didn’t turn a quick profit, it was acquired by the then government-owned railway department. With its financial backing secured, the Nara Hotel became a de facto guest house for VIPs in need of lodgings in the area.

▼ A photo taken during Audrey Hepburn’s visit in the 1960s

▼ Princess Kako, arriving at the hotel in 2022

What sets the Nara Hotel apart from some of Japan’s other long-established luxury hotels, like Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel or Kyoto’s Miyako Hotel, is how much of an effort has been made to keep the facility looking as close as possible to how it did in 1909. Built just before the start of the Taisho era, the architecture and interior design is a mix of classical Japanese and then-modern Western elements.

The stairway, for example, is a mix of red carpeting and locally fired Akahadayaki ceramic banister knobs.

There’s also this fireplace framed by a compact torii gate and flanked by komainu statues.

The hotel has both the original building and a more newly built annex. We were lucky enough to get a room in the original, and while some rooms were added to the building in 1970, others, like ours, have been there since the beginning.

Looking at the photo of our room’s door, you might think the doorknob is set strangely low. Actually, though, it’s at a normal height – it’s just that the door itself is really tall.

The décor is steeped in the stately romance of the Taisho period, with dark wood flooring and fixtures contrasting against the walls and pure-white bed linens. While the room wasn’t palatially sized, we had plenty of space to stretch out, and the extra-high ceiling also helped keep it from feeling at all cramped.

▼ The woodworking on the ceiling is a sight to see in and of itself.

Though the Taisho aesthetics have been preserved, the Nara Hotel has had periodic renovations, adding in such things as heating/air conditioning and making safety upgrades such as modern earthquake bracing. There’s an especially nice touch with the window pictured below, which consists of two layers. The inner part is the design as the 1909 original, but the outer section is a more modern setup, allowing you to both appreciate the historical artistry and shut the glass snugly against winter chills or summertime bugs.

Heading back to the common areas, the first-floor Sakura no Ma (“Cherry Blossom Room”) is an elegant lounge in which the hotel hosts occasional piano performances.

And yes, the piano has special significance too, as it’s the very same one that Einstein played during his visit in 1922.

Next, we went and took a peek at The Bar. We’re not trying to be clever with the capitalization. “The Bar” is literally its name.

Opening at 6 in the evening and with last call at 9:30, you can’t drink the night away in The Bar. With most of Nara City’s attractions being temples or parks to visit in the morning or afternoon, though, you can probably still get in a full day of sightseeing and be back in time for a cocktail.

The next morning, our breakfast was served in the hotel’s main dining room.

A beautifully arranged and expertly seasoned array of delicacies, including with the traditional Japanese morning-meal staples of grilled fish, miso soup, and white rice, we couldn’t imagine a classier way to start the day.

Really, there are only two downsides to the Nara Hotel. One is that it’s definitely the kind of place you’ll want to make a reservation for ahead of time. Not long before our stay, the Emperor and Empress had come to spend the night, and the entire hotel was closed to the public while they were there. The other, of course, is that the Nara Hotel isn’t exactly a cheap place to stay. It is, though, someplace you’re not likely to ever forget, and definitely worth splurging on if you’ve got some extra space in your travel budget, perhaps as a result of staying in some of Japan’s less expensive, but still very cool in their own way, hotels.

Hotel information
Nara Hotel / 奈良ホテル
Address: Nara-ken, Nara-shi, Takabatakecho 1096

Photos © SoraNews24
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