Among a line of residences on a cobblestone street in Kagurazaka, a hip and happening district in Tokyo also known as ‘Little Kyoto’, a wooden house sits quietly, containing within it a history dating back to 1949.
The house used to be a ryōtei – traditionally an exclusive, high-end restaurant with new patrons welcomed only by referral, and where geishas perform. For the latter – female entertainers practised in the ancient art of Japanese dancing and singing – it was also a training home.
Today the house serves renewed purpose, even as its structure in many ways hark back to olden days. Known as Trunk House, the building is now a boutique hotel by the same creators of the contemporary Trunk Hotel in Shibuya.
Designed by in-house Trunk Atelier in collaboration with Tokyo-based design studio Tripster, the renovated Trunk House is a one-bedroom accommodation booked as a whole. A private chef and butler come with every stay. The king-sized bed sleeps two, although groups of up to four – with the addition of two single futons – may be accommodated.
Japanese architectural details are prominent throughout the residential-style hotel. From the street, the entrance follows a grey stone foyer resembling a genkan, the area in traditional residences where guests remove their shoes prior to entering the home.
Inside, the restaurant’s original black walls remain, found in the dining room overlooking a Japanese garden – designed by leading Japanese landscaping firm Oryza – and an open kitchen. A tea room is outfitted with tatami mats, where guests converge around an irori, or a sunken firepit traditionally used to warm residents, as well as for cooking.
The master bedroom is minimalistic with a low-height white bed, while the bathroom features a large, square-shaped Hinoki wood tub, inspired by the sēnto, or a communal bathhouse. This sits before a tiled wall painted by Japanese artist Masumi Ishikawa, who specialises in uyiko-e, a style of woodblock art from the 17th century. Even the cross-beams and windows, preserved from the original building, remain intact.
Yet the space is rife with contemporary touches, too, with international designers commissioned to create pieces for the project. The leather sofa in the living room and the oak dining table are by Los Angeles-based designer Stephen Kenn, while the lighting fixtures are Jean Prouvé. The ceramic tea sets are by New York-based artist Tom Sachs, and the painting in the bedroom, inspired by geishas, is by fellow New York artist Alex Dodge. The brass lights above the kitchen counters are by Nara, Japan-based New Light Pottery.
The funkiest feature of the hotel, though, must be the bright-red mini disco – complete with a mini bar, a karaoke machine, and a glitter ball. Said to be the ‘tiniest disco in Tokyo’, the space is the cherry on top of a design feat, where the best of traditional Japan, as well as that of contemporary design, are contained within a piece of historic architecture.
Photography by Tomooki Kengaku