Kitoki Inn Brings the Japanese Onsen Experience to British Columbia

While Japan is nearly 5,000 miles away from Canada, a new boutique inn outside of Vancouver has incorporated elements of that country’s strong minimalist aesthetic into its forest and bathhouse experience.

Kitoki Inn Brings the Japanese Onsen Experience to British Columbia

Unplug in one of Kitoki Inn’s three cedar-clad cabins on Bowen Island.

Photo by Joann Pai

The rustle of grasses and tall cedar and fir trees swaying in the wind greets guests as they climb the stone steps toward the cabins of Kitoki Inn. Sitting on a bluff overlooking the temperate rain forest canopy of Crippen Park on Bowen Island, British Columbia, the inn’s cabins and bathhouse are deliberately situated in the peaceful natural environment. Here, guests can unplug and embrace the tranquility of their surroundings.

Opened in June 2021, Kitoki Inn is located just a 20-minute ferry ride from Vancouver’s Lower Mainland. Fittingly, the pleasant marine journey sloughs off the stressful layers of city life with each nautical mile. Walking into the forested realm of Kitoki Inn, guests enter a world of natural elements—wind, water, wood, and fire—present in the inn’s three cabins, the onsen-style bathhouse and its wood-burning fireplace and Japanese garden. A small, self-contained shop offers snacks for purchase, as well as speciality bath and kitchenware items sourced from Vancouver-based Japanese lifestyle store Itsumo.

The close attention to detail reflects the desire of Kitoki’s owners, Mitsumi Kawai and her husband Rob Leadley, to ensure guests feel at home in the forest. They have been delighted with their inn’s reception. “Many people have visited Japan, and I’m pleased to hear how it reminds them of their travels,” says Kawai. After successful stints as the owner of Tofino’s Kuma Restaurant and Bowen’s Shika Provisions, this is Kawai and her partner’s first venture into the accommodations side of the hospitality industry.

A minimalist aesthetic runs throughout the cabins and the onsen-style bathhouse.

A minimalist aesthetic runs throughout the cabins and the onsen-style bathhouse.

Photos by Joann Pai

The cabins

Kitoki Inn is made up of three contact-free cabins that integrate a Japanese-influenced minimalist aesthetic with contemporary materials like fragrant cedar. Each cabin can accommodate two people and includes a queen-size bed. At the foot of each bed is a comfortable loveseat, perfect for curling up with a book and a cup of coffee from local Vancouver roastery Modus, or loose-leaf tea chosen from the selection in the cabin’s well-equipped kitchenette.

Breakfast is complimentary, and the inn can accommodate gluten-free and vegan menu choices. A built-in nook makes excellent use of the cozy wood-paneled interior space, offering an intimate seating area to enjoy meals or afternoon tea while admiring the forest view through the floor-to-ceiling window. The bathroom features Japanese-made linens and body care products from Bowen Island’s own Sangre de Fruta organic botanical line.

A large sliding glass door opens onto a private deck with two bean bag loungers to enjoy the forest in the open air or revel in a night of stargazing.

Each cabin is allotted two 90-minute sessions per day to enjoy the onsen.

Each cabin is allotted two 90-minute sessions per day to enjoy the onsen.

Photos by Joann Pai

The bathhouse

Kitoki’s beautiful onsen-style bathhouse is set on a small hill a few steps away from the cabins to ensure maximum privacy. The covered bathhouse is open to the elements, providing a unique outdoor spa experience that can be enjoyed year-round, rain or shine. The open-air hot tub faces southwest, overlooking the traditional Japanese garden and fountain, and onward toward the adjacent forest.

The bathhouse is for the exclusive use of inn guests. Each cabin is allotted two 90-minute sessions per day to enjoy the onsen, and per Japanese tradition, bathing suits are optional. After a soak in the UV-treated water sourced from the inn’s on-site well, guests can rinse off in the hydrotherapy shower, then wrap up in plush Japanese-made bathrobes and sit to enjoy quiet moments by the wood-burning outdoor fireplace, protected from the elements by the bathhouse’s roof overhang.

Exploring Bowen Island beyond the property

Between bathhouse visits and cocooning in cozy cabins, guests can take advantage of Kitoki’s location next to Crippen Park. Guests can wander off-property for walks in the forest in search of Bowen’s Opa tree, a 1,000-year-old, old growth Douglas fir. Snug Cove (or as locals call it, “the Cove”) is a 15-minute walk and home to the island’s small but unique collection of restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries featuring local works. Bowen Island has one of the highest concentrations of artists in Canada. Individual studios are open to visitors by appointment.

Plan ahead and book your stay

The inn’s forest and bathhouse experience has proven to be popular—bookings are solid into next year. To be informed of reservation openings for 2023 and last-minute availability, Kawai recommends subscribing to the inn’s newsletter. Rates start at $415–$485 (US$326–$381) per night during spring and summer, and $365–$485 (US$286–$381) during fall and winter. A minimum two-night stay is required.

>> Next: A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Onsen Etiquette

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