Let’s call this Tokyo Round Two. You didn’t exactly fall in love with the capital of Japan during your first visit. You felt more than a little overwhelmed the entire time. Not that you ever felt unsafe. Quite the contrary, actually. But it didn’t matter where you went, the city always felt big, mind-boggling, and surreal. You need a different approach.
This trip begins much like your previous one. After landing at Narita International Airport, about 40 miles from the center of the city, you ride the N’EX (the Narita Express) to Tokyo Station. Unlike last time, when it took far too long to find your hotel, you just have a short walk, since you’re staying in Chiyoda. Chiyoda is known as the financial and media center of Tokyo. It’s also home to the Imperial Palace, where the Emperor of Japan lives. You chose it because of a new hotel, though.
HOSHINOYA Tokyo is easy to find among Chiyoda’s glass skyscrapers. The facade of the 17-story building has an intricate metal lattice pattern. Hoshinoya Square, in front of the hotel, is a contrast, as well. The space feels like a garden, with sculpted trees and boat-shaped benches. Then, when you go inside, you feel like you’ve stepped into a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn.
Though conventional Japanese etiquette is foreign to you, you immediately feel at ease inside the hotel. In the open lobby, you remove your shoes, as if you’re stepping into someone’s home, on the soft tatami mats. This is actually your home for the next few days. Each floor is accessible only to the people staying there. There’s an Ochanoma Lounge—which is both a living room with a library and a dining area for tea and coffee, saké and snacks—and five or six rooms on each level. Your corner Yuri room looks like a private ryokan. It has shoji paper sliding doors, a bamboo closet, and a comfortable futon bed. The natural colors are simple but elegant. Indirect ceiling lighting softens the room even more. Plus there’s a deep tub in which to soak in the bathroom.
The zen vibe continues throughout the rest of the hotel, as well. A hot spring was unearthed here before the hotel was built a few years ago. Its highly alkaline water is now pumped to the top-floor spa. After stretching, you slip into the outdoor, open-air hot spring. Privacy walls ensure that no one is watching you bathe, though you still have an uninterrupted view of the sky. A Wakatake oil treatment, to ease the traveling tension in your back and shoulders, follows your soak. Then you have dinner reserved right at the hotel.
By now, you should know that dinner will be as unique as everything else in the hotel. The chef was a bronze medalist at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or chef championship a few years ago. The restaurant’s theme is “surprise,” which is evident as soon as you look at the menu and see dishes with names like “five flavors of delight.” While the artful plates appear with dishes like snow crab, a beef hot pot, and a citrus tart.
By the end of the evening, you’re starting to feel more relaxed than you’ve ever felt in Tokyo. You’ll certainly be ready to participate in a traditional tea ceremony, jog along the wide paths around the Imperial Palace, and explore the cafes and the shops along cobbled Marunouchi Naka-Dori tomorrow morning. All it took was the right hotel to put you at ease.