A ryokan is a traditional Japanese style inn where guests can relax in a tatami-floored room, soak in hot spring baths and indulge in seasonal cuisine.
Ordinarily found in Japan’s more rural regions where the seasons are celebrated, a ryokan in the heart of the city is uncommon at best. So, how did Hoshinoya Tokyo come to be?
“Instead of focusing on what we could offer our guests, I began to think about what we could offer Tokyo,” said Yoshiharu Hoshino, CEO of Hoshino Resorts.
“There are many elements of traditional Japanese culture that are slowly disappearing from Tokyo, Hoshinoya is built on the theme of ‘an alternative Japan’ we envisioned a country that had kept all of its best elements, seeking to modernise them instead of dismissing them as obsolete.”
And in this vein, Hoshinoya Tokyo represents the imagining of ryokan culture as if it had evolved alongside other modern aspects of the city, a beautiful idea indeed.
Shoes off, please
Each hotel under Hoshino’s unique ‘Hoshinoya’ title has been designed to take the guest into another world.
This begins with the symbolism of the entry itself. In Tokyo, you step inside the unassuming foyer and a giant wooden wall splits in two before your eyes revealing the secret interior.
Once inside, shoes must be removed in a ritual that mirrors the shedding of the stresses and norms of the outside world.
The minimally decorated entrance has high ceilings with a wall of latticed bamboo shoeboxes and one decorative art piece that changes to reflect the seasons of Japan – an integral ethos of ryokan culture.
Kiku: The Grand Poobah of rooms
Japan is a city renowned for small spaces. One need only look to the pocket-sized bars of Golden Gai in Shinjuku or the pod style hostels to experience it. Most travellers visiting Japan prepare themselves for this reality, but most travellers haven’t been to Hoshinoya Tokyo.
As with other properties under the Hoshinoya title, the word ‘room’ is found lacking to describe the Kiku suite, the largest on offer at the property, coming in at a whopping 83 square metres. In reality, it is more like the chic penthouse of a Japanese socialite with impeccable taste.
The soft tatami matted floor continues inside all Hoshinoya guest rooms, as does the blending of traditional Japanese elements and luxurious modernity. The cloud-like futon bed is on a slightly raised mezzanine and the large two-person tub creates your own personal onsen.
The walk-in wardrobe is not only the size of your typical hotel room in Japan, but comes equipped with pyjamas and a traditional kimono to wear around the hotel.
24hr onsen and rotating snacks
Well, almost 24-hour. The famed ‘tower ryokan’ of Hoshinoya Tokyo is open exclusively to guests from the hours of 3pm until 11am the next day.
So, whether your clients would rather soak by daylight or moonlight with the stars twinkling overhead, the choice is theirs.
On the 17th and highest floor of the building, the curative water is pumped from 1,500 meters below ground and salted to create the restorative properties of the traditional Japanese onsen.
Recently voted ‘Tokyo’s Best Ryokan’ by users of Tripadvisor, you can bet this onsen experience is something pretty special.
Every floor has a common lounge exclusive to the guests staying on that level. If your clients opt out of the in-room breakfast (foolish), the Ochanoma lounge has got them covered with a selection of snacks throughout the day.
For an alternative breakfast, they can pick up a seaweed wrapped rice ball with miso soup and pickles. Freshly brewed and hand dripped coffee is available from 8am until midday, and for a late-night snack, guests can prepare a tasty mug of ramen.
The fridge is also stocked with local beers, soda and ice cream. The best part – everything in the Ochanoma lounge is included in your room price.
Tea, sake and a man with a spinning umbrella
For 8,000 yen, guests can experience a traditional tea workshop, learning about the art of ceremony and tasting matcha tea of an incredible quality sourced exclusively from Kyoto.
This experience provides a lovely counterpoint to the bright lights and shopping lanes of popular neighbourhoods in Tokyo.
Interestingly, as little as 20 per cent of Japan’s modern population has the skills to perform the tea ceremony in its traditional form.
After World War 2, the curriculum was updated to reflect more modern ideals and with it was lost the mandatory learning of the ancient skills like calligraphy and tea ceremony.
Next up was the traditional Japanese performer. Mouths were agape throughout this performance as balls, boxes and teacups were spun on top of an umbrella and an entire tea set balanced two meters in the air on this man’s chin, teeth, forehead and finger.
Located in the basement floor, with walls artfully designed to represent the rocky sediment from which this grotto-like restaurant was carved, the setting evokes the peaceful serenity that one encounters in a traditional ryokan.
There are six private tatami-matted dining rooms, sparsely decorated to allow Chef Hamada’s elaborate creations to take centre stage.
Chef Hamada travels around Japan visiting local farmers to find the best ingredients that have been thoughtfully produced or grown in natural environments.
Every one of the 10 dishes served, as part of the ‘Nippon’ menu was a work of art in itself, but the most unforgettable would be the ‘five flavours of delight’ – five meticulously designed pieces representing the five flavours (sour, sweet, bitter, salty and umami) placed on stones individually heated to suit each bite-sized portion.
Favourites included a tiny portion of pea soup, a green bubble complete with garnish, only half the size of a ping-pong ball bursting with flavour. Equally delicious was a miniature croquet of chrysanthemum greens with whelk and escargot butter.
Hoshinoya Tokyo merges the concepts of home and formal dining beautifully with a private dining room for guests. It reinforces the idea of the entire ryokan being yours for the length of your stay.
You may have already surmised, but the overall rating I’m giving Hoshinoya Tokyo is a resounding 10/10. The luxury of space and relaxation in the heart of one very frenetic city makes this hotel a destination in and of itself.