A modern ryokan: Why Hoshinoya Tokyo ranks as one of the best hotels I've ever stayed in
Old meets new
There's a no shoe rule at this hotel.
As I enter through the large sliding doors that frame the entrance of Hoshinoya Tokyo, staff usher me to a short stool and patiently wait as I start to untie the laces of my sneakers, before whisking them to a designated square box, which span the entirety of one side of the walls.
Barefoot, I gingerly tread onto the tatami mats and am greeted by an arrangement of autumnal fauna and flora, which changes as the seasons come and go, I'm told. The next time I see my shoes, it's when I leave the hotel to meet a friend.
There are an estimated 3,000 onsens (or hot springs) in Japan, and while countless dot the countryside, it's rare to find them in the city. Hoshinoya Tokyo is one of the few luxury hotels that have masterfully curated the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) experience and brought it to the heart of Tokyo.
Affectionately known as a "tower ryokan", each guest level within this 19-storey space is identical in layout and functions almost as a mini six-room ryokan of its own, with a lounge where guests can congregate and mingle, while enjoying free-flow drinks, snacks and ice cream. Tatami floors line the entire property, from corridors to commons spaces, and all 84 guest rooms.
The rooms — there's Yuri or Sakura that can accommodate two guests, or Kiku, the largest room type that can accommodate up to three guests — are beautifully decorated, with traditional elements like sliding shoji screens, cypress furniture and futon-style beds melding seamlessly with contemporary touches.
While the deep bathtubs in each room are incredibly enticing, what's a stay in a ryokan without a trip to the onsen? Drawing their water from 1,500 metres below ground, the two bath halls (separated by gender) located on the top floor of the property both contain an indoor bath, as well as an outdoor bath with an open roof. While it's not necessarily a must, guests are given and encouraged to wear a yukata (casual kimono) while at the hotel and when they visit the onsen.
Equally integral to an authentic Japanese inn experience is the food, of course. Most ryokans serve up a sumptuous multi-course meal, known as kaiseki, and the meal at Hoshinoya Tokyo is truly a winner in its own right. Only available to hotel guests, the Nippon Cuisine served by executive chef Noriyuki Hamada was a masterpiece.
Seasonal ingredients dictate the menu and during my dinner, some of my favourite courses include the five bite-sized appetisers dubbed 'five flavours of delight', which showcased sour, salty, spicy, bitter and sweet, as well as the soup de poisson, a deceptively simple fish bone broth poured over rice.
To make the stay an even more immersive one, guests can also choose to participate in activities like morning stretching exercises and evening deep breathing sessions (both complimentary), a tea ceremony or incense appreciation workshop, or sample different types of sake on the second floor while watching traditional Japanese performances.
Even though Hoshinoya Tokyo is located in the Otemachi area, which is close to Tokyo Station as well as Ginza, I've got to admit that there was quite a bit of reluctance to leave the hotel. After all, experiencing stellar service, staying in a beautifully appointed room, and enjoying incredible food, are sometimes all you need to elevate a holiday from great to unforgettable.
Hoshinoya Tokyo, 1 Chome-9-1 Ōtemachi, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 100-0004, Japan