Seiryu Kyoto Kiyomizu: live nostalgia in a former primary school transformed into a hotel

Imagine eating a meal, drinking alcohol, and spending the night in your elementary school. You can do all of this at the Seiryu Kyoto Kiyomizu hotel. The buildings were converted from the historic Kiyomizu Primary School, established in 1933 and closed in 2010.

The soil is preserved and used in such a way as to maintain its heritage, as are other parts of the old town. Its location is superb, along the front approach to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of Asia’s most renowned tourist sites. The hotel’s name, Seiryu, or blue dragon, is said to be the protector of the Higashiyama region where the temple dominates.

The lobby and reception were once a classroom during the school days. Photo: Mai Shoji

Just a 10-15 minute taxi ride from Kyoto station, I felt privileged as the car drove along the narrow street to the exclusive gate. Stunning views through the gate and courtyard without any distraction from the other buildings is a city break.


Exclusive approach to the front door. Photo: Mai Shoji

When you walk into the reception, you feel like you have stepped back in time. You can tell the hotel was a school. The reception was once the entrance to the faculty building. Opened in the spring of last year, the renovation was carried out by Aoyama Nomura Design (AND) under Nomura Co Ltd, one of Japan’s most renowned design companies, which won the Kukan Design Award 2020 for this hotel. .


Archives corner in the hall of the guest lounge Photo: Mai Shoji

There are a total of 48 rooms, most of them converted from old classrooms, averaging 50 square meters, including one suite of 136 square meters. My favorite is the Terrace Twin which overlooks the Higashiyama district, with the luxury of in-room dining on the terrace. I stayed in their Standard King. Its conventional architect feels modern; its interior is simple but comfortable, symbolizing the Japanese art of subtraction, or less is more. I imagined the former students playing in the courtyard as I looked through the classic windows in their original frames.


Standard King Room with Courtyard View Photo: Mai Shoji

At the entrance to the guest lounge, you can peek around the archives corner for the remembrance of the old school and the renovation process. Overnight guests can access the all-day guest lounge where you can participate in a semi-tea ceremony experience or brew your own coffee from scratch. I tried making my own matcha tea with the help of the staff who kindly guided me through my weak memory. I had forgotten how delicious a bowl of green tea can be when you whip it yourself. You can also try out the presentation of Kyoto dishes and specialties, including sweets and sake, before shopping for souvenirs. Views of colorful foliage before my eyes added to the height of gracious relaxation.


The staff welcome you with an invitation to try the tea ceremony and / or coffee grinding. Photo: Mai Shoji

I had dinner with Benoit Kyoto in the premises of the Seiryu hotel. Benoit is a bistro opened in Paris in 1912, loved by Parisians for over a century. It has become a place where the people of Kyoto come for traditional French cuisine.

“We don’t bother to sell ‘Kyoto products’ because the products we use usually come from local suppliers. We want the people of Kyoto to come and live a traditional French experience, ”says sommelier Takahiro Moto.


Benoit Kyoto serves traditional French cuisine. Photo: Mai Shoji

The atmosphere and spirit, as well as their logo, is very similar to Benoit in New York, but with an incredible view of Yasaka Pagoda through the church-shaped window that covers an entire side of the restaurant.


Your choice of 3 appetizers Photo: Mai Shoji

I had the à la carte set (7,480) – starter, main course, dessert and hot drink. I chose “3 bites of your choice” for the aperitif and with a glass of Crémate de Bourgogne Cube Agnès. I love duck and beets, so I chose “Duckling Dolce forte, red beet tart” with a glass of red Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu as the main course. This traditional plate of roasted confit breast and thighs in a sweet and sour beetroot sauce is a delight. I ended with “Armagnac savarin, Chantilly” because nobody says no to classic savarin.


Duckling Dolce forte with beetroot pie Photo: Mai Shoji

You can’t miss the K36 The Bar and Rooftop rooftop bar during your stay. With no buildings to block out the cityscape and stunning views, this bar is in high demand. Only hotel guests, or visitors participating in Benoit’s course menu, have the privilege of making reservations at this bar. The radiators keep you warm even on a cold evening and the warm, subdued candle light creates a very romantic ambiance.


Incredible city view and sunset from K36 The Bar and Rooftop Photo: Mai Shoji

Another must-see feature is the butler that stays in the indoor bar which was the art room during school days. Minoru Nishida is one of Kyoto’s most famous bartenders and knows his hometown very well. “When it rains, the staff who normally work on the terrace come in, so I head to my other bar, which bothers some customers not to find me here.” said Nishida. This is how he is popular. I tried his Salty Dog (1,650) from the original 1940s UK recipe, with gin instead of vodka and lime, not grapefruit. I couldn’t resist trying its version of Cosmopolitan (Â¥ 1,650) either. The cranberry sauce on the Baccarat rim makes the cocktail like no other.


Minoru Nishida is one of Kyoto’s most famous bartenders. Photo: Mai Shoji

Informed about Kyoto by the chatty butler, it was time for me to be done. Even though the hotel is in a popular tourist destination, everything is peaceful and calm and I had a good night’s sleep in the comfortable king-size bed after a hot soak in the western-style tub.

I went downstairs for breakfast the next morning, excited to try their ‘feel-good’ breakfast. The warm sunlight streaming in from the high ceilings of the old auditorium and the smiles of the staff greeted me. The concept is Library Restaurant and Bar, where over a thousand books sit on the shelves waiting for customers to take them out and even bring them back to their rooms. The upper shelves are occupied by 27 book covers in degraded colors in traditional Nishijin fabric. The dishes are prepared in the open kitchen where the auditorium stage was located. “Now the chefs are taking over with their cooking. Explains Chen Li Ting, from the sales and marketing department.


Over 1,100 books are housed in the Library Restaurant and Bar. Photo: Mai Shoji

A waiter serves me appetizers and green vegetable juice with soy milk when I arrive. Unexpectedly, I was then presented with a small cup of soup, a fresh salad with delicious French miso dressing, fresh fruit and yogurt, as the staff handed me a menu for the main course. Out of six, I chose the Japanese breakfast. The amberjack for the grilled fish of the day is very lightly simmered, like Kyoto seasoning. The elegantly flavorful white miso soup warmed my soul. The small dish including tofu and pickles are all locally produced. I highly recommend this choice if you want to taste the best of Kyoto all at once. The menu choices were created by a prestigious Doctor of Medical Sciences and you can ‘study a good breakfast’ inside the old learning house.


The creation of the menu for the wellness breakfast items was overseen by a Doctor of Medical Sciences. Photo: Mai Shoji

I had a clear mind, felt remarkably healthy and was ready for another day of adventure. I walked through the hills to the Kiyomizu-dera temple, finding many girls in rented kimono. Then I returned to my room and took another quick bath in the beautiful tub looking out over the courtyard.


Girls in rental kimono on their way to Kiyomizu-dera temple Photo: Mai Shoji

Seiryu offers three private baths where you can fully experience the healing power of Kiyomizu, which means sacred water. Guests can also use the fitness room equipped with the latest MATRIX machines.


One of the three private baths (6,000 / 90 min) Photo: Mai Shoji

Walking around the hotel might have been the best part of my trip. A red pole from a century ago stands intact in the playground. Graffiti, scribbles and scribbles remain on the stair handles and pillars of the former students. The wooden stairs are dented along the handle as most students held the handle when going up and down the stairs. Works of art by various artists are on display in 21 locations within the complex, including the symbolic “Rinkai” by Raku Masaomi. Such a beautiful old building restored and used for different purposes is quite inspiring.


Terrace seat of the restaurant and library bar Photo: Mai Shoji

“We have alumni from Kiyomizu Primary School staying at our hotel.” says Mina Kajihara, head of the sales and marketing department. It must be the ultimate luxury to know what the gardens were like and see them transformed into an establishment loved by people all over the world.


Hogwarts Hallway Photo: Mai Shoji

As I was packing for departure, I remembered my childhood days, and just like that, it was time for me to come back from my time travel.

2-204-2 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto

Phone: + 81-75-532-1111

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