Azumi, New Modern Japanese Ryokan Concept From Founder Of Aman

Filed Under: Hotels

Here’s an intriguing hospitality concept, if for no other reason than the person behind it.

Adrian Zecha, the man behind Aman resorts

Adrian Zecha founded Aman hotels in 1988. Zecha wanted a vacation home in Phuket, and that quickly developed into opening a boutique resort there. That’s how Amanpuri opened (the name of Aman’s Phuket property), and from there the brand grew significantly.

Aman is one of my favorite luxury hotel groups in the world, though I do think the brand has lost some of its sparkle since being sold to a Russian businessman in 2014. Aman used to be all about opening resorts in truly special places that other brands wouldn’t dare to build in, while nowadays the company is just cashing in on its name, with properties in the pipeline in Bangkok, Los Cabos, Miami, and New York.

Aman New York rendering

Aman is even launching a new hotel brand, Janu, which is intended to be more “energetic.” That’s just about the opposite of what Aman is usually supposed to be.

Janu Montenegro rendering

Azumi, the new modern ryokan concept

A new hotel group named Azumi is being launched in Japan, and it’s a collaboration between Adrian Zecha and Japanese hospitality group Naru Developments. I’d trust Zecha pretty blindly when it comes to his hospitality concepts, so I’m betting these are going to be amazing.

Azumi aims to deliver a fresh take on the Japanese ryokan experience, combining the hospitality of a traditional stay with elements of the global hotel experience.

Here’s how the inspiration for the brand is described:

“Originating from as far back as the 8th century, traditional Japanese inns known as ryokan still host guests across Japan. Preserving a more traditional lifestyle, these inns immerse guests in Japanese culture and traditions, with a focus on personalised hospitality that’s made the ryokan synonymous with guest care. Azumi is combining this cultural framework with a hotel offering that appeals to the modern traveller, balancing tradition with innovation in everything from the design and service to wellness, cultural programming and food and beverage offering.

The brand takes its name from the Azumi seafaring people who crossed the ocean to settle in Japan. Azumi hotels will celebrate the layers of culture and history that coexisted across Asia and eventually came together on the Japanese archipelago. As the group develops, each property will reflect the culture and climate of its locale.”

Here’s how Zecha describes his interest in getting involved in this concept:

“I was first acquainted with ryokans when I was living in Japan back in the 1950s as the Asia correspondent of Time magazine. My favourite ryokan was a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was owned and operated by one family and they were deeply rooted into the local community.

The hospitality was just right – I was treated as something in between a guest and a dear family friend. This relationship with the family who owned the ryokan made the place an extension of my own home in Tokyo.”

Azumi Setoda opens spring 2021

Azumi Setoda will be the brand’s first property, and it will be complemented by Azumi Yubune, the hotel’s bathhouse. Both are opening in the spring of 2021.

Azumi Setoda is located on one of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea of the Setouchi Region. It’s said that the island is one of the calmest parts of the channel, and due to its temperate climate, a key part of Japan’s citrus industry.

Here’s how a Naru Developments executive describes the inspiration behind the property:

“Many hotels and restaurants in Japan focus on expressing the thin-sliced surface of the Japanese culture and history, instead of going deep into the roots of each region. As hoteliers with global experience but with Japanese roots, we are happy taking on that challenge. That is how Azumi began.”

And below are some pictures of the property, which looks gorgeous.

Azumi Setoda area

Azumi Setoda guest room

Azumi Setoda guest room

Azumi Setoda dining

Bottom line

I’m a huge fan of Adrian Zecha, and I’m thrilled to see he’s involved in a new hotel group. I also love the concept he’s going for here, with a modern take on ryokans.

I stayed at a ryokan once before, and while it was a cool experience, it’s not something I need to repeat in that form. I get it’s an experience, but I found the whole thing to be kind of uncomfortable and rigid — the beds were hard, the seating not particularly comfortable, and there was no flexibility when it came to meal times, etc.

It sounds like Zecha is going for a more approachable ryokan concept, allowing people to experience a ryokan while perhaps still feeling like it’s a bit more luxurious, and like they have more control over the experience. I love that.

What do you make of Zecha’s new Azumi ryokan concept?

  1. Zecha also founded a resort chain in Vietnam called Azerai. It currently has 3 resorts in Can Tho (a gorgeous new build on an island in the middle of Mekong river), Hue (La Residence, formerly MGallery – a historical property on the shore of Huong river in Hue, the capital of Nguyen dynasty) and Ke Ga Bay (formerly Princess d’Annam, SLH – Indochine style boutique resort near an old light house).
    You can have a look here:

  2. Wow! This is so exciting – definitely adding to my bucket list and wondering if this will remain a Japan-centric focus or if this has opportunity to become a global brand. Fingers crossed!!

  3. A lovely location and beautiful accommodation, but what about the baths? An essential part of the ryokan experience is a visit to the baths and for me there has to be a rotenburo, either in the room or public. A nice soak in a beautiful outdoor bath is the thing I’m looking for in a ryokan stay.

    Also interested in the food as well, that is such an amazing region for food and most Japanese booking will be booking a package with dinner. No availability yet so I can’t check it out in the booking flow.

    Bookmarked though, worth further investigation.

  4. One of my most memorable hotel and meal experiences was a ryokan in Takayama. I would certainly be up for trying an ultra-luxury version, although second Ed’s comments that the baths and food will be key

  5. Interesting! I too have tried a traditional ryokan and not been the biggest fan for the same reasons you cited (the rigidity of the schedule, lack of flexibility, how they put away the bedding during the day). I get that it’s a fascinating experience, but I ended up preferring to stay in hotels of which Japan also does really really well.

  6. I’ve got a big more down the booking flow (doesn’t work very well on mobile but fine on desktop). If you stay on the Yubune bathhouse side it starts at a very reasonable 11,000 yen per night. Showers only in the rooms, but hey, it is a ryokan so you were going to the public bath anyway. Still no idea about the food. The Plan page still only shows breakfast only plans.

    You could make a lovely weekend starting with a stay at the U2 in Onomichi, a gentle bike ride to the ryokan on the Shimanami Kaido; Bath, dinner a sleep and then either bike back of the Boat to Mihara.

  7. I had the good fortune of first meeting Zecha during opening week at Amangiri.

    He’s a gracious, quiet and fascinating man: The polar opposite of what Aman is now becoming without him at the helm. The refined, quiet class is slowly leaking out of the Aman bubble, replaced by Insta-famous wannabes and regular folks going into massive debt just to get those social media snapshots. It’s all so sad.

    Azerai Resorts were his reasonably-priced follow up to Aman. He wanted to try to get a younger crowd, but in having stayed in a couple, they never had the attention to detail that the original Amans had. Something was missing. They felt incomplete.

    I hope the best for him and his new venture.

  8. This looks simply like a Japanese-inflected Aman, there is absolutely nothing in the description or pictures that says ryokan. It seems to me indistinguishable from any other Aman to be honest, minimalist to a fault and somewhat uninviting.

  9. Yeah, I am the same on the ryoken experience. Fun to do it once, but otherwise it is too regimented for western tastes.

    Plus a futon on the floor reminds me too much of my student days. And I get annoyed having to take my shoes off all the time.

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