There was a lot of excitement prior to the opening of The Hotel Seiryu Kyoto Kiyomizu in March 2020. A former elementary school turned luxurious hotel with stunning views in a prime location, it looked certain to attract a slew of guests in its first year. With tourism booming in Kyoto and the Olympics expected to bring even more visitors to the area, it seemed like Seiryu’s 48 rooms would be booked up for the foreseeable future. Then the pandemic hit.  

 “By the time we opened, Covid-19 was widespread in Japan,” says Seiryu’s Director of Sales and Marketing Reika Honma. “We had to cancel our opening ceremony and press tours. There were a lot of bookings in January 2020, but most of them then canceled. It was a very slow start and at the end of April we had to close because of the state of emergency. As with all hotels at that time, it was a bleak situation. There was little we could really do except for trying to build our brand.”  

Targeting Micro-Tourism  

Seiryu was initially expecting 20 percent of its customers to come from abroad, rising to around 40 percent in three years when it would become more of a name. For obvious reasons, that hasn’t happened so the focus has been on the domestic market. During the Go To Travel campaign in late 2020, rooms were fully booked. However, as much of 2021 was under a state of emergency, it once again proved to be a difficult year. Yet despite sales being been up and down, the hotel has already garnered a strong reputation.  

“A lot of people share images on social media and write about their positive experiences here,” says Honma. “Things haven’t gone exactly as planned, but we’re delighted with the feedback we’ve had. At the end of the day, the pandemic is beyond our control. Our focus is to make the best of the situation and ensure our guests are completely satisfied. That said, the staff here were so happy to see the hotel full with people during the Go To Travel campaign and last autumn when Japan opened up again. Hopefully we’ll see a similar situation again soon.”  

Yasaka Pagoda can be seen from many rooms

Avoiding the Crowds 

Of course, many people will see this as the ideal time to visit Seiryu. Just an eight-minute walk from Kiyomizudera, one of the signature World Heritage sites in Kyoto, it’s located in an area that is usually swarming with people. During our visit, there was hardly anyone around. The 1,200-year-old Buddhist temple is a spectacular place to visit any time, but it felt that much more special almost having the entire place to ourselves.  

The nearby cobblestone streets of Ichinenzaka, Ninenzaka and Ishibekoji Alley also make for a delightful stroll. The immaculately-kept inns, bars and restaurants in addition to the peace and quiet really did make it feel like we’d been transported back in time. Then there’s the grand structure of the Seiryu building itself. The former site of Kiyomizu Elementary School, you can feel its history when walking around.  

K36 Rooftop Bar

A Splendid Sight  

Remnants of the school can be found both inside and outside the building. As for the rooms, they are spacious, extremely comfortable and provide magnificent views of the 46-meter tall Yasaka Pagoda of Hokanji Temple, providing your room is facing that way. The five-story pagoda is a splendid sight and if you can’t see it from your room, you can always enjoy it from the guest lounge where guests have free access to snacks and drinks, including alcohol.  

The best place to view the Yasaka Pagoda, though, is probably from the hotel’s rooftop bar while sipping on a cocktail. K36 Rooftop features a great selection of drinks, including some unique liquor combinations. It also serves food, but for dinner, the French restaurant Benoit Kyoto on the first floor is recommended. Incorporating seasonal flavors and ingredients, the menu is built around classic French cuisine.  

As for breakfast, Restaurant Library The Hotel Seiryu is a unique place to eat. As the name suggests, you’re surrounded by books, all of which are available to take back to your room. The menu offers a nice selection of healthy Western and Japanese style dishes. For those looking to stay in shape during their stay, the hotel also has a fitness gym.  

There’s lots to do there to keep yourself occupied both in and around The Hotel Seiryu Kyoto Kiyomizu. It’s a location that has managed to do pretty well considering the restrictions over the past two years. The hope is that in the coming months, things will get even better. Though with everything that’s happened since it opened, nobody is counting any chickens yet.