The Japanese capital is also attracting attention for its contemporary hotel designs, and none more so than Aman Tokyo (above), conceived by Australian architect Kerry Hill as an urban retreat that sings of ryokan simplicity but incorporates a feeling of ceremonial importance.
The property, opened in 2015, occupies the top six floors of the Otemachi Tower near Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace. When the lift opens at the lobby on Level 33, it’s as if thoroughly modern Tokyo has receded in a whoosh. I am in a multistorey hall of massive basalt columns, soaring latticed screens, pebbled water gardens and platform-like ledges.
There is a feudal, almost solemn sense of grandeur but delineated spaces have an intimacy, too. Stone, wood, rice-paper — all the age-old tenets of Japanese design are here. The space is 30m high, topped with an extraordinary lantern-like membrane made of textured and stretched washi paper that diffuses sunlight and by night is a canvas for illuminated effects. There is a Japanese word, engawa, that means the connecting space between outdoors and indoors. An engawa marks the transition from contemplation to sociability, and while it is a distinct design conceit in the lobby, it also perfectly sums up Aman Tokyo.
In 84 guestrooms and suites, all with reaching views, there are sliding screens and square, deep bathtubs. Surfaces are unadorned but for the occasional minimalist ikebana arrangement or bowl of flawless fruit. Timbers are pale, carpets are the colour of deepest charcoal, wooden floors are matted with tatami (remove shoes, please; soft slippers provided).
The design is so subdued as to almost recede — a reminder that the best Japanese artistry is about an absence, not a declaration, of things. Bare does not mean barren. Even the corridors that lead to guest chambers feel like subtle interpretations of the arcades of pillars and precisely planted trees that form an approach to temples and shrines; timber battens on these walkway walls line up like slender bamboo trunks, and recessed lighting and alcoves lend further shadows and mystery. In one such niche I spy a tiny pot holding just one leaf no bigger than a sprig of mint; in its miniaturised perfection, it says more than any showy floral tribute. • aman.com
This is an edited extract of a feature by Susan Kurosawa that appeared in The Australian’s Wish magazine.