Simply put, Hoshinoya Tokyo provides unmatched luxury and comfort, infused with local tradition and design, in the heart of Japan’s bustling capital.
Hoshinoya takes the concept of the traditional Japanese inn and redefines it for the modern age, presenting its own unique take on age-old practices and elements, seamlessly fusing Japan’s rich cultural heritage and ryokan conventions with modern-day luxury and cutting-edge design.
Seen from a distance, the exterior simply looks like a black tower, but upon closer inspection, what seemed to be a flat black building is revealed to have intricate ornamental patterns. This decorative style dates back centuries, when the lower classes in Japanese society were not allowed lavish designs on their kimonos (a right reserved exclusively for the ruling classes). The practice of exquisitely detailed patterns that seem plain from a distance is honored at Hoshinoya. In a broad sense, this encompasses what the hotel is all about. At a glance, everything at the hotel seems minimalistic and functional (and it is undoubtedly all of these things), but underneath it all lies extreme attention to detail, superb design and astounding beauty.
It can be easy to miss the hotel, not because it’s difficult to locate (it’s a 17-storey building, after all), but because, like most things at Hoshinoya, the exterior is sleek and understated, with an elegant entrance that you wouldn’t find unless you were actively looking for it. Countless business people walk by it every day and probably have no idea what lies behind its walls.
The first automatic door opens only to reveal a second majestic door made of 300-year-old cypress. The first leaves the busy streets of downtown Tokyo behind, while the second welcomes you to Hoshinoya. Upon entering, guests slip off their shoes, which are carefully taken by kimono-clad staff members and gently placed in a cubicle along the wall of the long corridor. The cubicles weave seamlessly into the ornate wooden paneling on the wall. One would never know they are there were they not pointed out.
Hoshinoya Tokyo is a ryokan like no other. Ryokan is the name given to traditional Japanese inns, the oldest of which was created in 705 AD and is still in operation today (recognized as the oldest hotel in the world). They usually feature tatami floors, sliding rice-paper doors and windows and natural hot spring baths (onsen), and tend to be located in rural areas among mountains, by the sea or along old highways, where travelers can rest for the night and commune with nature.
Hoshinoya has taken this centuries-old concept and revolutionized it for the modern traveler. Located just blocks away from Tokyo’s main train station and the ancient Imperial Palace grounds, and surrounded by skyscrapers in an important business district, one would think that this is the wrong place to search for tranquility, but one would be sorely mistaken.
At Hoshinoya they are acutely aware of the change of the seasons, and the hotel is accordingly transformed throughout the year in subtle but meaningful ways. The décor in the halls and rooms, the flowers that adorn the entrance, the flavors found on the menu, they all change depending on the season. The hotel aims not to be a refuge from the forces of nature, but a place to find communion with them and feel the passage of time, in true ryokan fashion, and this is accomplished through its incessant attention to detail and sense of finesse. The final result of all this is invariably extreme serenity and a sense of absolute wonderment.
Each floor of the hotel has a small number of rooms and a common area, the ochanoma lounge, where one can enjoy tea and snacks, read the newspapers and books provided, get some work done or simply kick back and relax, and guests are encouraged to spend time there. Ryokan have always been places to commune with nature, but also to interact with fellow guests – as well as hosts – and Hoshinoya keeps this tradition alive. Staff members are often present to help prepare tea, coffee or other refreshments.
The rooms are spacious and elegant, with both elements of tradition – tatami mat floors, low futon beds and sliding rice paper windows – and modern amenities, such as high-speed internet and a fully stocked minibar. Everything is seamless and sleek, yet homey and welcoming, with a heightened sense of comfort. As is tradition, casual kimonos are provided for the guests, who are encouraged to wear them throughout the hotel or during meals, and are even free to wear them on strolls around the neighborhood.
Like most ryokan, Hoshinoya Tokyo also has an onsen, a traditional Japanese hot spring bath, but unlike most ryokan, this onsen is located on the 17th floor. The natural hot spring water – which is said to help reduce fatigue, increase circulation and revitalize the body – is pumped from deep underground all the way to the top floor of the hotel. Through the marvels of modern engineering and design, the baths boast an open air setting with unobstructed sky views, yet provide complete privacy. The subtle ambient lighting only enhances the experience after dark, and in order to help achieve complete relaxation, the spa offers massages, oil treatments and even breathing and stretching exercises for sounder sleep.
There are also many extra activities that can be enjoyed by guests during their stay. These range from participating in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, to watching an Edo-period acrobatic show, to part-taking in complimentary sake tasting, and usually take place on the small and intimate stage area by the reception.
Dining at Hoshinoya is an experience that involves more than just your sense of taste. The dining area is located below ground, with meals taking place in small private rooms with dim ambient lighting and a hypnotic silence, lending the whole endeavor an almost surreal quality which only enhances the experience and the flavors.
Multiple-award winning executive chef Noriyuki Hamada brings his passion and expertise in French cuisine to Hoshinoya and creates exquisite dishes using natural Japanese ingredients, and the result is simply spectacular. Each bite you take is a work of art, both in flavor and presentation.
He relishes using fresh mountain herbs, which he often picks himself, and uses them to infuse every course with creative and unexpected flavors. He travels the country in search of the perfect ingredients, from vegetable farms and local fish markets (he has something of a passion for what they refer to as ‘underappreciated’ fish) to mountainside herb patches, collecting the perfect elements to create his dishes, draw out the full potential of the ingredients and present flavor combinations from the remotest parts of Japan.
As you are guided through your numerous courses, each paired with a glass of wine or sake and finely tuned to the current season, you will learn all about the different elements of your meal, from the ingredients, to the methods used, right down to the plates on which they are served – yes, even the plates have deep and layered stories to them – and enjoy flavors you’ve likely never experienced in your life, product of Hamada’s unbridled creativity.
It is difficult to put into words just how unreal a stay at Hoshinoya Tokyo can be. One feels transported to another time and place, with countless minute components coming together to provide a unique and captivating stay. The attention to detail is staggering, and every single element of the hotel has a story worth hearing, yet everything is elegantly understated, conveying more through silence than exposition. The warmth of the staff and phenomenal service only punctuate the experience, making it one you won’t soon forget.