Japan Travel Guide
There was a time when the Hyatt Regency was considered the high-end Western hotel in Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. That changed with the opening of The Ritz-Carlton last year, where a more traditional Japanese experience is still very much possible though in its Tatami Suite. Four Seasons should have been there even before the Ritz, but these photos showed it is years behind schedule, which means the next big brand moving into ancient Kyoto will be Starwood Hotels.
Suiran, part of its Luxury Collection, should open already on March 31 and will be a ryokan-style hotel (a traditional Japanese inn) with just 39 rooms. Above a rendering of the hotel, set within the grounds of the Tenryū-ji temple, which will combine new accommodation with the restoration of historic structures “Enmei-kaku” and “Hasshoken”.
It's that time of year again: the 2014 HotelChatter Awards! Today and tomorrow, we'll be showcasing the best (and worst) of hotels over the past year. But we couldn't do it without you! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, or shoot us an email. And the Award goes to...
Andaz Tokyo was on our list of major hotel openings this year, so we felt like a kid in a candy shop when we walked into the giant Toranomon Hills development the day after the ribbon was cut back in June.
Zooming up to the 51st floor, the Japanese capital stretches out in front of you, both its urban density and the green core of the Imperial Palace, providing mesmerizing views both during the day (above) and at night (below) – worthy of our Best Killer View award.
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We were wrong. After a number of delays, and our own gazing up to the top six stories of Otemachi Tower without being able to step inside, we thought Aman Tokyo wouldn’t open this year.
It is. On Monday, December 22, the first city Aman will be here
It is. On Monday, December 22, the first city Aman will be here, and we have some truly luscious photos for you to drool over too. If ever you’ve had a fantasy of staying in a hyper-modern, minimalist penthouse in the sky, floating above the city, start scouting for tickets to Tokyo now (we were just there and confess to doing a quick fare search already). Here’s what else you need to know: Aman Tokyo is the beginning of a new chapter for Aman, with discussions in progress for “city retreats” in New York, London, Paris, and Singapore.
The photo above is of the soaring atrium, up thirty-plus stories from the city’s business district. Nearly 30 meters high, it’s been designed to resemble the interior of a Japanese paper lantern. For a sense of scale, spot one of the chairs next to the pillars on the far left. We love the deep grey stone, the wood (Camphor wood, so we’ve learned), and the simplicity of the furniture design.
In space-constricted Japan (50% of the 127 million people live on 2% of the land), the size of a room isn’t typically looked at by square meter or square foot, but by the number of Tatami mats that fit inside.
That looks something like the above, and no, we didn’t ask The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto to take all the furniture out of the room for the photo: this is the bedroom of a traditional Tatami Suite at the hotel, which means every evening your equally traditional futon-style bed (two singles) will be made up for you. We had a chance to look inside the hotel during a recent visit to Kyoto, four months after the hotel opened on February 7 this year.
A casual glance at the above photo of the lobby at Palace Hotel Tokyo shows a number of things: gleaming grey marble, moss-green carpet and bench, painting, flower arrangement, chandeliers.
The painting isn’t the only piece of art in the photo though, with the white wall behind reception revealing its secret as you get closer: it isn’t just a white wall, it’s a whiteout wall. More specifically, it is a mixture of artificial marble, crystal powder, and whiteout correction fluid (!) brought together to depict endangered species of Japanese flowers. Talk about symbolism – a close up just below.
Hotel Okura might be preparing itself for a multi-year closure–demolition–redevelopment cycle next year (if the Monocle petition to keep it won’t throw a spanner in the works), but another iconic Tokyo hotel will have shrugged when they read that news and thought: been there, done that, way ahead of you.
Above is what Palace Hotel Tokyo looked like in late 2008, presiding over its own moat in its second incarnation, after starting life as the government-run Hotel Teito just after WWII. The following year it closed and reinvented itself over the span of three years into something worthy of the theme “Before and After” – check it out after the jump.
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Even more surprising perhaps? By the time the film crews zoomed up to the 41st floor lobby and 52nd floor New York Bar & Grill, the Park Hyatt had already been around for nearly a decade too, which means this month the hotel is celebrating its 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, you can sample the “Timeless Passion” cocktail (above) while taking in the consistently awesome views from the hotel. There are a number of events over the next few months at the various restaurants and bars, and while nothing is confirmed yet, we think there might be some more news on a refresh of the rooms in the works.
Tokyo’s Toranomon Hills Tower may have only just opened, Andaz hotel and all, but one of the classic hotels nearby is planning its own future skyscraper already: the Hotel Okura Tokyo – famous for its 1960s time capsule lobby – will close next year August for four years of redevelopment.
Come February 2019, a brand new two-tower complex should be finished, which will increase room count from just over 400 to 550, adding office space in the process. Design will maintain “traditional Japanese aesthetics” while bringing in all the latest technological equipment – and looking at some of the room photos on the hotel’s website, they look like they could use some work. Half of the hotel’s grounds will be turned into a green “metropolitan oasis”.
When Four Seasons Kyoto made it onto our list of openings to be psyched for in 2013, it was really a mix of hope and wishful thinking on our part that secured it a spot on there, following the announcement the year before that the Canadian group was developing a property in the former imperial capital of Japan (which, incidentally, gets a staggering 50 million visitors a year).
Having had a chance to walk by the construction site this week, we’ll be readjusting our expectations significantly and shooting for a 2016 to 2017 completion. The Four Seasons sign is proudly displayed though at the 5 acre site in Higashiyama-ku, just to the east of the city’s Kamagawa river and less than 10 minutes by taxi from Kyoto’s JR / Shinkansen train station.
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We’re always up for a hotel stay, but when it comes with the chance to take in that freshly opened new hotel smell? We’re all over it. Such was our luck at Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, where we walked through the front door the day after the ribbon was cut last week.
One of the tallest structures in Tokyo, Toranomon Hills tower (the big one in the middle in the above photo, with a bonus appearance of Tokyo Tower on the left) dominates the skyline south of the vast green expanse surrounding the Imperial Palace. Andaz spreads across six floors of the building, with reception on floor 51, rooftop bar, function space and wedding chapel (yes, really) on floor 52, spa on floor 37, and 164 guestrooms between floors 47 and 50.
We had high hopes for our Andazm at Andaz no. 12 and we left pretty satisfied after a night in one of its rooms. Why? Here are five things that made it work for us.
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Aman Resorts might be known for its luxury resorts in exotic locations, but the hotel group should be branching out to its first true city hotel this year, after dipping its toe in the somewhat urban water – quite literally as it were – in Venice.
And where better to take the next step than Tokyo, a metropolis if there ever was one? We had hoped Aman Tokyo would have been open by the time we were in Japan, but pre-summer became post-summer as it tends to do for hotel openings, with the latest we’ve heard being sometime in September. We did walk over to The Otemachi Tower complex that the hotel will be part of to get a sense of its setting, so read on for a first impression.
The fact that Andaz Tokyo is indeed very much open is something we can vouch for, typing this as we do in one of its rooms on the 50th floor of the equally new Toranomon Hills tower, with the above view over the city and the Imperial Palace stretching out in front of us.
We paid an opening rate of about $370 USD (39360 JPY) but we're clearly getting a lot of bang for our buck. From big views to small amenities (the minibar and WiFi are complimentary), there is lots to talk about, which we’ll do soon.
In the meantime, here are a few shots to whet your appetite: from the lofty heights of the 52nd floor rooftop and expansive lap pool to old-timey switches on the nightstand, paper artwork in the elevators and bonsai trees in the lobby. Stay tuned for much more.