A stay at Tokyo's first luxury ryokan did not disappoint. Gentedimontagna editor Berit Baugher checked into the city's most talked about new hotel.
TOKYO – On a recent visit to Japan I checked into Hoshinoya Tokyo, one of the city's newest and most exciting hotel openings. Styled after a traditional Japanese inn, also known as a ryokan, the quiet 84-room hotel feels worlds away from the busy streets of Tokyo. Historically, ryokans are low-key affairs with minimal furnishings and services, shared bathrooms, and no heating or air conditioning. Hoshinoya Tokyo embraces the tradition of simplicity, but through an elevated and luxurious lens, differentiating it from other urban ryokans.
Upon entering the hotel, I instantly felt at peace; fragrant incense filled the air and soft Japanese music played in the background. Instead of a traditional lobby, I was greeted by an attendant in a room layered with soft tatami mats and a wall of elegant bamboo and cyprus boxes. A small alter displaying fruit, candles, flowers, and a Japanese fan paid homage to the fall season. As in a traditional ryokan, guests are asked to remove their shoes, which are safely stored until they depart the hotel. Rather than checking in at a front desk, I was shown to my floor. Guest are granted access to only a few floors in the hotel — those that house their room, the lobby, the restaurant, and the baths — ensuring the utmost privacy and solitude.
My room wasn't ready, so I settled into the ochanoma lounge, a 24-hour common room with seasonal teas, traditional Japanese snacks like onigiri rice balls and rice crackers, sake, magazines, newspapers, and a staff member to help with service. I tried and loved my first amazake, a sweet but tart fermented rice drink that the Japanese often imbibe during the winter season or during ceremonies.
I stayed in a Sakura room, which was minimally furnished with low-to-the-ground wood furniture, tatami mat floors, and a bamboo closet. The walls were painted in shades of rose, cream, and gray; earthy elements like a wooden branch and clay pot were placed throughout. Guests are encouraged to wear the kimonos, pajamas, and socks provided by the inn. An excuse to wear pajamas all day is definitety a bonus in my opinion. Peeking through the shoji paper sliding doors that shield the windows was a bit of a shock. I'd forgotten that I was staying right in the middle of the towering skyscrapers of Tokyo and not in a remote country hideaway.
The tradition of bathing in Japan runs deeps and is thought to help with everything from low blood circulation to fatigue reduction. Much of my bathroom was taken up by a large soaking tub, so I could partake in the cultural tradition from the comfort of my own room. For more adventurous travelers, one of the biggest draws to the hotel is the onsen on the top floor, separated by gender. A small interior bath feeds into an outdoor open-air bath, drawing highly alkaline waters from a spring located beneath the hotel. Bathing suites and clothing are not allowed, so partaking is essentially an exercise in approved skinny-dipping. If, like me, you're a tad modest, I recommend taking advantage of your jet lag and heading upstairs around 2 a.m. when the other predominantly Japanese guests will be fast asleep.
The restaurant wasn't open when I visited, but the in-room dining was a highlight. If I could recommend any one experience at the hotel it would be ordering the Japanese-style breakfast, which is almost too pretty eat, but equally as delicious.
BOOK A ROOM
Rates from $700 per night. Make a reservation.
Amidst a small grouping of tall office buildings, the standalone tower is just steps from the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace and a ten-minute walk from Tokyo Station.
Understated elegance with a nod to Japanese tradition.
This Place Is Perfect For
Business travelers, couples, small families, and solo travelers looking for a refuge from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Children are welcome.
What's on Site
Dining options include a 10-table restaurant run by French-Japanese chef Noriyuki Hamada and in-room dining. The lobby doubles as an event space and hosts traditional Japanese music and dance as well as a small shop where you can buy the insanely delicious triangle candies and Senbei Brothers rice crackers served in the ochanoma lounges. The onsen baths on the 17th floor are the real highlight, drawing water from a hot spring beneath the hotel. A ryokan-style spa is scheduled to open later this spring. Massages will be combined with hot spring dips and oil treatments. The WiFi is free and reliable.
Number of Rooms
There are 84 rooms spread across 17 floors.
You'll find traditional Japanese kimono, pajamas, socks, a mirror that turns into a television, Bose bluetooth speakers, deep soaking tub, blackout curtains, high-tech Toto toilet, small tea station with electric kettle, assorted teas, tea pot, and ceramic cups. Every floor features a 24-hour ochanoma lounge with seasonal teas, traditional Japanese snacks like onigiri rice balls, sake, magazines, newspapers, and a staff member to help with service.
The location isn't ideal, but it is easy enough to walk to some of the more interesting neighborhoods like Marunouchi and Ginza.
As with most Japanese hotels, the service is impeccable — from the porter who greeted me upon my arrival to the attendant in the ochanoma lounge, each of the staff members I encountered was helpful, kind, and a pleasure to interact with.
Good to Know
Once you book the hotel, take advantage of having access to a Japanese concierge. They will be your key to booking restaurants, tours, cars, and anything else you can think of. Many businesses will only take reservations through a local concierge.
Quieter and more reserved than some of Tokyo's other neighborhoods, centrally-located Chiyoda is where you'll find the Tokyo Imperial Palace and many of Japan's modern government buildings. Hoshinoya Tokyo is located in a small section called Otemachi, which is home to several of the city's largest newspapers, financial service companies, and Japanese corporations.
What to Do Nearby
There isn't much to see or do in Otemachi, so plan on venturing out. Stroll east through the Imperial Palace gardens or head south to the Marunouchi district for food and shopping. Inside Tokyo Station, a narrow hallway nicknamed Ramen Alley is home to several of the city’s best noodle joints. Some are more famous than others, but they're all good, so go for the one with the shortest line. You didn't fly all the way to Japan to spend your day in a shopping mall, but if you're looking to hit up a few shops that feature top-notch Japanese design, I promise you won't be disappointed with Kitte. Notable stores include Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten for traditional Japanese crafts, Hokuriku Sousui for face soaps and the softest handmade goat hair makeup brushes, Uka for nail oil, and Marunouchi Reading Style for books and stationery.
Akihabara is a 30-minute walk north or a 20-minute subway ride and should't be missed. In sharp contrast to the tranquil hotel, Tokyo's electronic district is the crazy and wild Japan you've seen and read about. Go to experience Japan's otaku culture at it's most extreme. The neighborhood is the Japanese equivalent of Time Square, but instead of people dressed as Mickey Mouse and oversized flashing billboards you'll find an influx of anime, manga, video games, and maid cafes.