Andrew Woodward experiences the best of Japan’s unique culture, without ever leaving the hotel.
I’m walking through the streets of Shinjuku in central Tokyo, having alighted at the nearby train station – the busiest in the world . A major commercial hub, Shinjuku is a bustling part of the city, its streets flanked with impossibly tall skyscrapers and countless shopping and entertainment outlets. Pockets of Shinjuku are also reminiscent of traditional Japan: the tiny restaurants and maze-like alleys of Omoide Yokocho and the tranquil Shinjuku Gyoen Garden.
I take in as much of this as I can on the way to my destination – the prestigious Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo – but it’s been a long trip and I’m ready to relax. As if transforming to match my mood, fluorescent signs are replaced by verdant trees on the final approach to the hotel and the hubbub of the city fades to muted chatter.
I step through the cavernous lobby and ascend to the Club Lounge on the 45th floor – an oasis of calm, 160 metres above the ground. The space is designed to imitate a Japanese garden and, as I take a seat, a warm washcloth and a cup of green tea are placed before me. I feel the tension of travel slip from my shoulders as I take a sip and admire the full grandeur of the cityscape stretched out before me.
Life on top
The first skyscraper hotel in Japan, with construction completed in 1971, you could call Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo a bit of an institution. There are 1,435 guest rooms in the hotel; I’m staying on one of the Premier Grand club floors – essentially a hotel within the hotel, requiring a key card swipe in the elevator for ultimate privacy.
One of the first things to strike me about the Premier Grand Club Room, apart from the dazzling view of the city from my window, is the meticulous attention given to every detail. I realise I’ve forgotten to pack an adaptor for my phone, but no matter, a draw is filled with adaptors for every type of outlet imaginable. There’s a personal iPhone stocked with ideas for sightseeing and eating out, a Bluetooth speaker, L’Occitane bath amenities and a bed fitted with Italian sheets that is so comfortable I make sure to set an extra alarm in case I sleep through the first. For anything else, a team of dedicated Premier Grand concierges is on hand from check-in through check-out.
Breakfast in the Club Lounge is an experience not to be missed. The on-hand chef takes a break from carving a melon in a beautifully intricate pattern to cook an omelette exactly to my liking, which I enjoy from a window-side seat as I plan the day ahead. The hotel has 11 restaurants and six bars in total, serving an eclectic assortment of Japanese and Western dishes. I lament that I won’t have time to try them all during my stay, but make a mental note to return to the Club Lounge later in the day for complimentary Japanese whisky and sake.
Beyond four walls
In addition to providing a superior level of comfort and service, Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo offers a range of unique cultural experiences, allowing guests to immerse themselves in Japan’s rich traditions within the hotel’s walls.
My first morning sees me descending in the elevator to the 10th floor, where the Tea Ceremony Room, or “Shofu-an”, is located. There are four tea ceremonies held here five days per week, with each intimate session accommodating around four people. Today, however, I have the space all to myself and – crossing the threshold into the tranquil interior – I feel as though the rest of the hotel is suddenly a million miles away, not to mention the bustling streets of Shinjuku.
The waiting tea master guides me through a ritual cleansing known as temizu – using a wooden ladle to first wash my left hand, then my right, my mouth and finally the handle of the ladle – before crouching through a low entrance and taking my place on the tatami floor. I am given a sweet treat or wagashi resembling a peach, and then the ritualistic preparation of the tea begins. The slow, deliberate movements of the tea master reflect the purpose of the ceremony itself: to take time out from the busyness of life to enjoy traditional hospitality. Once prepared, I drink my tea – first admiring the ornate design on the bowl’s front, then turning it clockwise in my left palm to drink – before thanking my host with a bow and leaving the tea room, feeling significantly more zen.
This is but one such unique experience on offer at Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo. Guests can also learn the art of Japanese flower arrangement, or ikebana, dating back to the seventh century when floral offerings were commonly made at altars, or participate in a yukata dressing service before hitting the city in traditional garb. Sightseeing tours by limousine can also be arranged, visiting two sake breweries and the Kushi Kanzashi Museum accompanied by an English-speaking guide.
But before venturing out to explore the city, make sure to stop in the hotel lobby which hosts a rotating roster of fascinating cultural exhibitions. Whether showcasing Hinamatsuri dolls, traditional Arita porcelain or artistic representations of Mount Fuji, a part of Japan’s beauty is always on display here – allowing guests to experience a deep sense of place before ever setting foot outside the hotel.