A clever Tokyo hotel stacks traditional inns one on top of the other
Could this really be the weirdest hotel in Japan? Externally it’s nothing special – just another stylish high-rise reminder of why Australians visit a metropolis considering itself the most hi-tech capital city on earth.
Daring architecture – such as reach-for-the-sky buildings that seem about to topple but don’t – is itself a Tokyo attraction. Add to the mix food, shopping, night life, historic temples and palaces, cultural icons and quirkiness – all of this makes Tokyo so distinctively Japanese.
Japan is “hot”. Nearly 450,000 Australians visited last year, up a whopping 47.1 per cent from two years earlier. And many of them consider staying in a ryokan (traditional inn). The ryokan – the closest western equivalent is a B&B – originated more than 300 years ago, serving travellers along then-bumpy highways. They typically feature rooms with tatami mats and rice-paper walls. Often family-run, they encourage guests to wander through public areas in yukatas (lightweight cotton kimonos worn as bathrobes). Some have onsite communal onsen baths (for soaking not washing). They’re mostly small, occupying Japanese-style lowrises (often houses).
But high prices sometimes force would-be Tokyo ryokan guests to dump the idea. Demand is such that some room rates even exceed those at five-star hotels. Mind you, although prices are high so are standards.
But one Tokyo property owner had a brainwave: a high-rise up-market hotel styled as a ryokan. The result is
arguably one of Japan’s oddest hotels – but one of its best. It’s a splurge, but it’s a worthwhile one. With high occupancy levels, many a budgetconscious visitor spends only one or two nights there, transferring to or from more conventional hotels.
Tokyo’s largest ryokan occupies a purpose-built 18-floor building. And since not every level is used for accommodation, Hoshinoya Tokyo has only 84 rooms, and they’re big.
A few blocks’ walk from historic Tokyo Station, it’s in a fashionable area of office towers, shops and eateries ranging from fast-food outlets to mid-market and upscale.
When I reach the hotel the main door is closed, yielding only when I push. Suddenly I’m in an old-Japan time warp, a world away from contemporary bustle outside. Aromas of incense and flowers waft through an outer lobby. Tatami (straw matting) covers the floor. Japanese decor includes a wall of numbered chestnut-and-bamboo lockers.
A kimono-clad staffer greets me, asks my name and offers to take my shoes, placing them in a locker with the same number as my room. The staff member, like her mostly young and cheerily efficient colleagues, speaks English. She escorts me through another door to a lift. Even it is carpeted in tatami.
My room is large, particularly so in city known for compactness. Windows overlooking Tokyo skyscrapers are covered by rice paper screens. Furniture is five-star standard but low, as if the legs have been shortened. A comfy futon-style bed is at one end of the room.
A quick check reveals plenty of sockets for charging electronic gadgetry. Mind you, I’m unable to find a light in the en suite toilet but a sensor ensures the smallest room is quickly bathed in light, enabling me to watch an automated toilet seat lift in welcome all on its own. Toiletoperating instructions, in Japanese and English, are easily followed.
Back in the bedroom I notice something missing – a television set. “People don’t come here to watch TV,” the staff member says, laughing. But she opens a drawer to reveal a discreetly hidden remote. “Point it at the mirror,” she instructs. I do so and half the looking-glass transforms into a kingsize TV.
Donning a yukata and slippers from a bamboo-covered closet, I wander down the hallway to the lounge. A couple of guests are similarly dressed.
The lounge, one on each floor, is where guests go to read, sip from a large selection of the on-the-house sakes or imported wines and sample delicate Japanese snacks. A selection of little-known Japanese teas is also available.
Lounges are each staffed by two kimono-wearing young women. I listen as they advise an Australian couple about nearby restaurants.
The hotel, which opened last year, has no bar and only a small 10-table restaurant, presided over by Tokyo celebrity chef Noriyuki Hamada. Western fare is served on demand but chef Hamada is best-known for his take on Japanese dishes featuring clams, octopus and salmon.
In most hotels only a minority of meals are delivered by room service. Here most are dispatched from Hamada’s kitchen to guest rooms or lounges. House guests get preference for restaurant reservations.
Close to the reception desk is an area used for cooking classes, kimono-wearing lessons, tea ceremonies and incense ceremonies.
But the hotel’s pride and joy is its 17th-floor onsen (traditional communal bathhouse). Separate facilities cater to men and women.
During excavations a hot spring was discovered 1.5km below ground. It was then decided to include an onsen, with mineral-rich water piped up the building. A leisurely nighttime soak in almost-too-hot-totolerate water while gazing out at the lights of high-rise Tokyo proves the most memorable feature of a stay.
THE AUTHOR WAS A GUEST OF THE TOKYO CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU.
Hoshinoya Hotel (above) is quirky and traditional; large rooms (left) are comfortable.