Aman heaven

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

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. •


This is an edited ex­tract of a fea­ture by Su­san Kurosawa that ap­peared in The Aus­tralian’s Wish mag­a­zine.

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