Bar area of MOGANA with sleek black design
With new hotels in Kyoto being built at an incredible rate, finding considered accommodation options can become quite the arduous task, yet MOGANA - translated as ‘what if?’ in old Japanese - stands out as a property that incorporates a respectful nod to its traditional city surrounds, whilst reinterpreting how the very same tradition can be adapted into a contemporary setting.

Founded in 2018 by couple Yoshifumi and Yuko Shigeta and designed by Kyoto-born architect, Takashi Yamaguchi, MOGANA is a new take on the traditional kyomachiya (Kyoto-style traditional wooden townhouses) style. Nestled in Kyoto’s Nakagyo Ward, the sleek and narrow exterior sits inconspicuously between two residential homes. Gazing skyward, however, produces a bewildering perspective on the steel structure that stretches behind, where state-of-the art technology and contemporary design meets the city’s illustrious past.

Upon entering the monochromatic lobby, I’m greeted by the warmth of the staff, each clad in sleek uniforms designed by Issey Miyake. An array of details, textures, light, and shadow befall my eyes and I feel at ease. A narrow passageway gives way to the traditional kyomachiya corridor, stretching 38 metres into the rear of the property, giving rise to the name unagi no nedoko, or ‘the eel’s bed’, for its long, thin structure. Lights flicker and shadows dance poetically on latticed walls. The asymmetrical ceiling was designed to invoke the feeling of komorebi, an expression used to describe the playful shadows of sunlight filtering through treetops.

Although Yoshifumi and Yuko had no prior experience in the hospitality industry, Yuko credits their love for (and expertise in) hotel design from holidaying in Sardinia, Italy, a destination which they travel to every year. During past trips, they drew inspiration from various settings, longing to create their own project where their philosophies and interests can be showcased and experienced. Eventually they decided to open MOGANA in Kyoto, a city in which they spent their university years, holding many fond memories of their time here together, and of the city itself, a place they believe to have a perfect balance of tradition and modernity.

As I’m shown to my room, the light and shadows meander through the passageway to a soundtrack of other-worldly music. Walking on stainless steel floors, that were built to resemble tatami mats, leads me to MOGANA’s library where a curated selection of books and magazines about local architecture and culture is on offer for guests. A large screen looms above, projecting videos of Japan’s four seasons in a soothing cycle.

All 23 rooms are abundant with luxurious amenities and the decor and furniture have been carefully selected and custom-made exclusively for MOGANA. Not a single room has a television in the hope to encourage true relaxation and appreciation of the surroundings, designed around the concept of yosooi - beauty in balance. Granite baths in each room beckon guests to relax away from the outside world. MOGANA celebrates Japanese craftsmanship in every one of their minimalist rooms, from intricate Awabiware from Awaji island (where Yuko was born), to the luxurious robes from Matohu. One truly can’t deny the care and depth of commitment that Yuko and Yoshifumi have put into creating a one of a kind experience for their guests.

Each of MOGANA’s black and white rooms overlooks a tsuboniwa (inner courtyard built to bring in light and influence climate, found in a kyomachiya). The lush greenery of the vertical garden walls pop against the stark interiors, viewed through floor-to-ceiling windows. For guests staying during the spring, the breathtaking bloom of white gardenias awaits. On the second floor, the bar provides a chic atmosphere where a selection of Japanese malt whisky, wine, and champagne can be enjoyed underneath a spectacular wood panel installation covered in 24-karat gold leaf - a feat that took three days to complete by a single gold leaf artisan in Kanazawa.

Breakfast, both Japanese and Western style, is a special and exquisite experience, served to stimulate each of the five senses, known as ‘gokan’ in Japanese. The presentation is based around the concept of fukiyose, which is explained as the beauty of autumn leaves spun into little circular storms by the wind. Colours and flavours burst with every bite - each dish teeming with fresh and delectable seasonal ingredients from Awaji, Shima, and Wakasa.

In an age where social media is so prevalent, Yuko reminds me that MOGANA is so much more than an instagram opportunity, their philosophy has and will always be to capture and share the beauty of contemporary Japanese minimalism and traditions through a sleek, luxurious space and a variety of exclusive and immersive experiences.

Not only is MOGANA a design lovers’ dream, but a place where guests can gain a profound understanding of Kyoto’s culture and customs through the hotel’s knowledgeable and dedicated staff and setting.

Amy Tang
Amy Tang