Sleep: Tokyo

There's no shortage of hi-tech, high fashion and high jinks in the Japanese capital, but a little exploration reveals serene green space, wooden Shogun-era shops and traditional ryokans, too.

By Lee Cobaj
Published 5 Sept 2015, 09:00 BST, Updated 5 Jul 2021, 10:35 BST

Central & Imperial Palace

This serene space in the giant chipboard that is Tokyo is home to the Imperial Palace, the Diet (national parliament building), Tokyo station and one of the oldest business districts in Asia, and makes for a gentle introduction to this frenetic city. Dawdle around the calming lakes and lawns of the Imperial Palace East Garden, rent a row boat and splish-splash along the Chidorigafuchi moat, or head for the fine National Museum of Modern Art.

We recommend: Palace Hotel Tokyo
This landmark hotel was razed, rebuilt and then reopened at the end of 2012 and immediately regained its place as one of the most stylish places to stay in the city. Its enduring appeal is no doubt helped by its splendid location on the leafy skirts of the Imperial Palace East Garden — it's the Emperor of Japan's nearest neighbour — but it also has bags of character. At the Palace Hotel, swans glide along the royal moat past the lobby window, newlyweds pose cheekily under cherry blossom trees and ladies in expensive kimonos gather for afternoon tea served on glossy black trays. Its 10 bars and restaurants bubble over from morning to night, while the Evian spa lures in tightly-wound, time-famished Tokyoites with 15-minute power massages. Swathes of linen, sleek bathrooms stocked with swish Anne Semonin toiletries, and a simple pearl-white and pale green colour scheme give the rooms a serene sophisticated feel. Service is superb.
Rooms: Doubles from JPY50,000 (£272), room only. 

Best for glamour: Mandarin Oriental
This 38th-storey sky palace is as beloved by locals as it is by visitors, who flock in their droves to its glamorous spa, award-winning restaurants and hip Mandarin Bar — which, unlike most fancy Tokyo bars, doesn't apply an eye-watering cover charge. The service is flawless and the rooms are glamour bubbles: cotton kimonos in lacquer boxes at the bottom of giant beds and Bottega Veneto amenities in the marble bathrooms.
Rooms: Doubles from JPY59,000 (£321), B&B. 

Best for big spenders: Aman Tokyo
You could practically hear the sound of billionaires snapping their Black Amexs from their Prada wallets when Aman debuted its first city hotel in Toyko at the end of last year. It's incredibly impressive with supersized public spaces, intriguing modern artworks, fabulous floristry and exciting fine dining — oh, and a magnificent split-level Aman spa. The 84 rooms, all with splendid city views, embody low-key Japanese luxury.
Rooms: Doubles from JPY90,750 (£508), B&B. 


A little over a decade ago, this entire district was nothing more than a giant cargo hold for the Japan Rail network. Now, it's a lovely waterfront neighbourhood overlooking Tokyo Bay, the Rainbow Bridge and on-the-up Ariaka, home to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic parks and arenas. In the shadows of flash office blocks and mega-malls are remnants of times past, from tea parlours and Kabuki theatre to the stirring Tsukiji fish market.

We recommend: The Conrad                                                                                                                                          Cool and classy, The Conrad was one of the first luxury hotels to cast anchor in Shiodome and, over a decade on, it's still the best. Perched on the 28th floor, the lobby's a knockout — a sky atrium soaring over three storeys with a wall of glass squaring up against sparkling Tokyo Bay. Specially commissioned artworks by Japanese painters and sculptures decorate the route to the five bars and restaurants, while up a level, there's a pretty spa and cool city-view swimming pool. Rooms are large and have either harbour or city views. Then there are the little touches: breakfast served until a leisurely 11am, four different types of bathroom products to choose from, and your own kimono-fabric teddy bear on the bed at turndown. And the concierge team's just brilliant.                                           
Rooms: Doubles from JPY46,000 (£260), B&B.

Best for shop & drop: Millennium Mitsui Garden
Opened at the end of 2014, the shiny new Millennium Mitsui Garden is situated on the edges of vibrant Ginza, ringed by 1930s architecture, chic shopping malls, Kabuki theatres and hip back-street restaurants. The 329 rooms are minute but natty enough, with designer chairs, splashes of purple, squeeze-y soaking tubs and big windows with up-close city views. In the basement, the hotel's Niko Ginza restaurant is a handy pit-stop for noodles and miso. Higashi-ginza subway station sits right next door.
Rooms: Doubles from JPY20,000 (£112), room only.

Best for business: Hotel Villa Fontaine
The lobby feels like an office block and there are virtually no facilities — no restaurant, bar, pool or spa, only a small gym — but Villa Fontaine sits right next door to the Conrad, which means it boasts the same well-connected location, brilliant bay views and city buzz as its neighbour for a fraction of the price. Rooms might not be the most exciting but there's nothing to grumble about either, with crisp nightshirts, cosy slippers, Shiseido toiletries, tea, coffee and free wi-fi included.
Rooms: Doubles from JPY11,500 (£65), B&B. 

Shibuya & Shinjuku

This is Tokyo at its cinematic best — skyscrapers, neon and ghostly voices blaring from giant TV screens. Weeks could be spent just wandering the malls; hit up Don Quijote and Tokyo Hands for unique Japanese buys — who doesn't need a hammock for their smartphone? Then there's trippy Harajuku with its cosplay characters, and the jumping gay bars of Shinjuku Ni-chome. Save your Sundays for Yoyoji Park, when gangs of rockabillys dance-off by the east gate.

We recommend: Keio Plaza
This Vegas-sized hotel has 1,400 rooms spread over two towers and 45-storeys, in the heart of happening Nishi-Shinjuku. The location is top — close to robot cabaret shows, karaoke bars and flamboyant nightclubs — and the facilities include over 20 bars and restaurants, tea ceremony rooms, an outdoor swimming pool and pine-clad spa. Rooms are sizeable by Tokyo standards, with chunky big beds, ample desk space and soaking tubs. They are, however, a bit beige — with the notable exception of the Hello Kitty-themed rooms. Ridiculously kitsch, the hotel has eight of these camp corner suites available in two different styles. The bubble-gum-coloured Kitty Town rooms have all-pink bathrooms and 3D felines bursting out of the walls. And for the more, ahem, mature Kitty fans, the Princess Kitty rooms are romantically dressed with plushy stiletto shoe chairs, flouncy taffeta curtains and rose-patterned carpets. They're extremely popular — look for lower rates between Monday and Thursday.
Rooms: Doubles from JPY24,000 (£134), B&B. 

Best for boasting: Park Hyatt
Almost as famous as Bill and Scarlett for its leading role in Lost in Translation, the Park Hyatt Tokyo is perched between the 39th and 52nd floors of the Shinjuku Park Tower with 360-views of the Tokyo cityscape. The New York Bar is the place to see and be seen, and if you're staying in one of the plush, pared-back rooms, you won't have to pay the JPY2,200 (£11) cover charge.
Rooms: Doubles from JPY65,000 (£370), B&B. 

Best for singletons: Apartment Hotel
If you recently purchased a Sony Walkman or drink flat whites, you'll fit right in at this hip little hideaway in the backstreets of Shinjuku. Only five of the 30 rooms are doubles and there'll be no swinging of cats, but they're bigger than you'll find in a capsule hotel and include private bathrooms — as well as a spot-on location.
Rooms: Singles from JPY3000 (£17), doubles from JPY7000 (£39), room only. 


Most visitors rush around Tokyo's oldest neighbourhood, swarming through its souvenir-filled street market, riding rickshaws and circling the Edo-era Senso-ji Temple before going for a twirl up the 2,080ft tall Tokyo Skytree. But Asakusa rewards those who linger with tiny wooden shops dating back to the Shogun era, floury soba noodle restaurants singing with happy customers — even the occasional Maiko (geisha in training). Hire a bike and join the flow.

We recommend: The Gate Hotel Kaminarimon                                                                                                            You'll have to stay at the Gate Kaminarimon to appreciate its head-turning rooftop bar; this futuristic space is strictly for guests-only. Its views are stunning, looking out over the stepped rooftops of Asakusa, the Lego-bright Senso-ji Temple, and the mushrooming Tokyo Skytree — not to mention the Philippe Starke-designed Asahi Brewery, which sits opposite the hotel and appears to be topped with a giant golden sperm. Nip to the smoker's balcony and you can also see the snowy peak of Mount Fuji cresting in the distance. This dinky design hotel has a fresh, upbeat feel: there's a vibrant lobby with low-slung circular sofas, contemporary chandeliers and Crayola-coloured artworks, and a hip little restaurant, both of which are ably serviced by a team of perky young staff. Silver elevators lead to subdued rooms with midnight blue walls, matt-black furniture and crisp white beds. Breakfast is worth getting up early for.        Rooms: Doubles from JPY16,000 (£89), B&B. 

Best for budget: Mystays Asakusa                                                                                                                                This bright, cheerful Japanese budget hotel is located across the Sumida River from historic Asakusa, within walking distance of the JR train line, the Edo-Toyko Museum and the Ryogoku Sumo Hall (tournaments are held here in January, May and September). The 160 rooms are clean and cleverly put-together, with laundry facilities. Bicycles can be rented from the front desk.                                                                                                                                    Rooms: Doubles from JPY4,100 (£23), room only. 

Best for families: Tokyo Ryokan                                                                                                                                    This lovely three-room homestay is a great traditional alternative. Expect simple décor — tatami mats, shoji screens, the odd bonsai — and communal shower and toilet facilities. The ryokan's charming owner, Kemichi San, is always on hand to guide you to the best sukiyaki(hot pot) joint or secret late-night onsen (bathhouse).                                      Rooms: Doubles from JPY3,500 (£20), room only.

Published in the October 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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