Hoshino Resorts continues its campaign to reshape Japan’s travel and tourism industry with its latest property, a luxury ryokan (complete with onsen or hot spring) in a standalone skyscraper; right in the heart of one of the world’s biggest and best cities, Tokyo.
Traveller: C. James Dale
Address: 1-9-1 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0004, Japan
Date: October 2016
Best for: Enjoying a contemporary spin on the traditional Japanese ryokan experience in an urban setting.
The Signature factor
In a country that boasts almost unrivalled service, Hoshino Resorts is among the best, its staff masters of omotenashi, that much vaunted Japanese style of hospitality. They strive to anticipate guests’ needs before they even know what they want. Everything about this urban property, from design to lighting and landscaping has been created in a meticulous and artistic fashion, all while maintaining a seemingly effortless simplicity. The contemporary ryokan offers so-called ancient map tours of the Otemachi district led by a cultural historian. And there’s no better place to soak your tired feet than the authentic onsen on the hotel’s top floor, a dimly-lit interior hot spring bath.
Hoshino Resorts is all about putting a modern spin on the traditional ryokan (Japanese inn), which feature tatami mat flooring, futons and warm, welcoming staff. Like the other Hoshino properties designed by Azuma Architect & Associates, including the flagship resort HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, HOSHINOYA Tokyo elegantly blends old and new. While most traditional ryokan have wooden floors, every walkable surface at HOSHINOYA Tokyo is covered in soft tatami matting. Aromatic wood and washi paper shoji screens are found throughout the hotel, along with low-lying furnishings adorned with bamboo designs. The dwellings of each level sit clustered around a ochanoma or shared lounge space. The hotel itself seems like a low-rise compared to its towering neighbours, so HOSHINOYA attempted to make up for the lack of views by turning the building into a “jewel box”, veiling most of the structure with a metal lattice that uses an Edo Komon motif traditionally featured on kimonos.
As is often the case with Hoshino Resorts properties, your experience starts the moment you arrive. In Tokyo, smiling staff bow and take your shoes (yes, you remove them on the first floor) in the genkan, or entrance, lined with shoe boxes made of chestnut and bamboo. The narrow, 5.5-metre-high hallway is shut off from the bustling Japanese capital by doors made from the wood of a 300-year-old Japanese hiba tree. The distinctive (and for some, comforting) smell of the tatami flooring fills the air. Staff escort guests up the elevator to the ochanoma, where they can enjoy green tea, sake, onigiri rice balls and Japanese treats depending on the time of day they check in. And while the city of Tokyo beckons, guests will find it difficult to leave the beguiling rooms and the warm embrace of the onsen.
HOSHINOYA Tokyo has three types of rooms: Yuri, Sakura and Kiku. The Yuri and Sakura rooms are 41 to 49 square metres, enough space for two people. The Yuri can be found at the ends of each floor in the corners of the hotel. The Sakura, located near the ochanoma, have a twin or double bed. The Kiku rooms are 83 square metres and enjoy more natural light because they face south. Many of the materials are the same: the shoji paper sliding doors covering the windows, bamboo closets and tatami flooring. The Kiku rooms have walk-in closets and a spacious living/dining area. Instead of lounging on a sofa, guests flop out on a flat, rectangular couch loaded with pillows. Can’t find the TV? Look no further than your living room mirror — it’s hidden behind there, exposed with a click of a button. The bathroom’s cushioned bench, deep tub and two sinks make it especially comfortable. And at the end of the day, you’ll lie down on fluffy futons that sit on a slightly raised platform.
On my plate
Confession: I’m a bad planner. I arrived at HOSHINOYA Tokyo to discover that the 10-table restaurant was fully booked. No surprise given star chef Noriyuki Hamada is in charge, someone I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of years back when I reviewed HOSHINOYA Karuizawa for Signature. His playful, French-Japanese fusion cooking is heavily influenced by Japan’s four seasons. Hamada creates a menu of quality meats, seafood and vegetables that poses questions (“This is an apple?”) and references literature (“After a hundred years of solitude…”).
Part of the ryokan experience, though, is dining in your room. And many guests choose to do that, with lunch menus offering hot or cold udon noodles and a dinner selection that includes simmered Anago eel and egg with rice and Japanese horse mackerel burger. We tried the Japanese-style breakfast, which arrived in tiered wooden boxes and featured grilled fish, simmered octopus, hearty miso soup and a variety of crisp, fresh vegetables.
I wish I could take home…
…the jersey kimono outfits for guests. Like the pyjamas and outerwear provided at other Hoshino Resorts, once you put on the soft cotton clothing, you won’t take it off. In fact, the hotel suggests you wear it for short strolls around the property, including to the nearby Imperial Palace.
The ryokan-style spa offers a variety of treatments, including the Shiki massage involving a warm poultice filled with seasonal herbs. The Body Remake session will analyse your personal body conditions and teach you exercises tailored to your needs.
Most visitors to HOSHINOYA Tokyo will waste little time before heading to the 17th-floor onsen, which is the real deal, fed with spring water piped up from 1500 metres below the teeming streets of Tokyo. The routine is simple: disrobe, wash your body, and then step into the hot, mineral-rich water (which, in this case, is high in sodium and tastes rather salty). The low lighting further enhances the feeling of relaxation. Along with an indoor bath, there’s also an outdoor area that sits beneath a soaring skylight; the sounds of the city flowing in (along with, depending on the season, cool air).
Once you’re in the comfy HOSHINOYA kimono, you won’t want to take it off. You’ll easily slip into the ryokan routine of eating, going to the onsen and unwinding in the room. You can also hang out in the ochanoma and enjoy onigiri, Japanese sweets, seasonal sake, richly flavoured green tea and freshly ground specialty coffee.
Tokyo is a city of seemingly limitless possibilities. Some of the best bars, restaurants, and shops are just a short train or taxi ride away from HOSHINOYA Tokyo. A can’t-miss destination is the Imperial Palace, home to Japan’s Emperor, Empress and their family. Most of the inner grounds are closed off to visitors, although people can stroll through the East Gardens. The public is allowed inside the grounds on 23 December for Emperor Akihito’s birthday and on 2 January for the New Year greeting, with the Imperial Family making a number of appearances on each day.
Other spots to visit include the recently restored Tokyo Station, which is full of shops (psst: there’s a Hello Kitty store) and restaurants (two words: Ramen Street). You’ll find the quaint Nakadori Avenue a few blocks away, lined with restaurants, cafes, and high-end boutiques. If you’re looking for more, HOSHINOYA Tokyo can also help arrange private river tours.
While taking off your shoes at the entrance of a residence is common practice in Japan, guests on the go may consider it an inconvenience to do it over and over again. Workout-lovers beware: you’ll have to walk down the block to find the gym because HOSHINOYA Tokyo doesn’t have one. Instead, the hotel has an arrangement with the nearby Spa Otemachi Fitness Club.
..the rooms had a view. There’s not much to see when you open the shoji screens except the metal covering and more buildings. It’s not like staying at the Aman Tokyo, the Conrad Tokyo or other five-star hotels in the Japanese capital. Don’t come expecting to enjoy sweeping views of the metropolis or Mount Fuji in the distance on a clear day. Still, there are enough design touches inside HOSHINOYA Tokyo to feast your eyes on. And with Japan an earthquake-prone nation, sometimes it’s not so bad to be closer to the ground.
- HOSHINOYA Tokyo was the winner of the Reggie Shiu Development of the Year Award at the 2016 Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific.
- Visitors may also consider reading Hoshino Resorts’ 100 Trip Stories, written by 100 young people from around the world who received three-night stays as part of the company’s celebration of its 100th anniversary.
Where to find it
HOSHINOYA Tokyo is located in the Otemachi business district, between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station. It’s a 10-minute walk from the station’s Marunouchi Chuo Exit and an 11-minute taxi ride from its Marunouchi Exit Taxi Stand.