As I pass through the entrance of Asaba Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn situated in the tranquil hot spring town of Shuzenji, Shizuoka Prefecture, I feel as though I’ve stepped into a living ukiyo-e from the Edo Period (1603-1868).

The panoramic windows reveal an idyllic vista: a waterfall cascading into a carp-filled pond, upon which sits a 19th-century noh butai, a covered stage for traditional theater performances. This timeless beauty, infused with a profound sense of place, exemplifies the elite hotel group Relais & Chateaux’s approach to preserving and celebrating cultural heritage properties worldwide, a mission the association has pursued in Japan for the past 36 years.

In an age of globalization and standardization that is seeing the hotel industry increasingly dominated by international chains, Relais & Chateaux has been instrumental in promoting luxury accommodations that reflect the distinctive character of its locales. Founded in 1954 by Marcel and Nelly Tilloy, the owners of La Cardinale hotel and restaurant in Paris, the association comprises a network of independently run properties united by shared values of exceptional hospitality, culinary excellence, cultural uniqueness and sustainability. Today, the organization encompasses 580 establishments across 65 countries.