Where to stay in Tokyo

As the Japanese capital prepares to host the 2020 Olympics, the spotlight is on its characterful places to bed down, from reimagined ryokans to high-concept capsule hotels

By Stephanie Cavagnaro
Published 17 Jun 2019, 08:00 BST, Updated 16 Mar 2021, 10:04 GMT
Hoshinoya Tokyo
Hoshinoya Tokyo
Photograph by Hoshinoya Tokyo

Tiny izakaya pubs, Shinto shrines, kawaii (cute) culture — Japan’s greatest pleasures are all on glorious show in Tokyo. This is a city of distinct neighbourhoods: cosplay-cool teenagers descend en masse on Harajuku, Ginza’s flashy shopping attracts Dior divas and Akhibara is the base for outre otaku (fan) culture. The city’s hotels are just as varied as its hoods, too, ranging from bijou boutiques to themed hostels, and no matter where you decide to doze, Tokyo is one of the world’s safest cities, where free smartphones are even included in some rooms. Many rates are per person, rather than per room, so prices can be steep, but stay for less at capsule hotels or budget ryokans (inns). If you’ve got yen to spend, book one of the city’s OTT suites or design dens, safe in the knowledge that wherever you choose to stay, the service and attention to detail will be world-class.

For zen z's
£££ Hoshinoya Tokyo

Cue the crème de la crème. The city’s first luxury ryokan has five-star frills without being flashy. It takes all the elements of a ryokan — sliding shōji screens, tatami floors, seasonal food and hot springs — and pimps them up. The mats are scented with sandalwood; seafood such as sea bream tartare is served on lacquerware in the 10-table restaurant; and then there’s the 17th floor onsen. Here, salty hot-spring water is pumped from 5,000ft below ground to this sleek, black-tiled spa, which leads to an al fresco sky-view tower. The 84 guest rooms come in three categories, one of which, Kiku, offers expansive digs with deep, square baths and low, hibernation-worthy mattresses. Each floor flaunts a lounge, plying guests with nigiri rice balls, hojicha tea and mochi snacks, while cultural activities range from sake tastings to tea ceremonies.
Rooms: From ¥72,000 (£487), room only.

For exclusive experiences
£££ Palace Hotel Tokyo

Tokyo’s grande dame has been a showstopper since it opened in 1961 — it’s easy to see why. Resembling a lavish private residence, the lobby offers a yawning swathe of grey marble, glass and moss-green accents, while the 290 regal guest rooms reveal kimono-motif carpets. Over half boast balconies — a rare treat in Tokyo — some with Imperial Palace views. Club room guests have access to the 19th-floor lounge, with afternoon tea and cocktails thrown in. The hotel’s 10 bars and restaurants include a tempura station, while new restaurant Esterre, in partnership with Alain Ducasse, will dish up seasonal French haute cuisine from November 2019. Japan’s first Evian Spa, meanwhile, is light-filled and Zen-like with new packages that include meditating with a monk or swimming with an Olympian.
Rooms: From ¥55,000 (£385), room only.

Located on a quiet corner in fast-paced Marunouchi, this is the place for laid-back luxury. The 57 neutral-toned rooms are replete with floor-to-ceiling windows and Japanese-print carpets, while the marble bathrooms are designed for lingering. But don’t stay too long: seventh-floor Motif Restaurant & Bar is a stunner. Masterminded by Michelin-starred chef Hiroshi Nakamichi, it serves farm-to-table French cuisine fused with the seasonal flavours of Hokkaido Prefecture. The 10-course tasting menu has included the likes of lily root with plum and Madeira, while yuzu pancakes with hojicha sauce is a breakfast highlight — to be savoured while watching bullet trains zip through Tokyo Station.
Rooms: From £370, B&B.

Trunk Hotel
Photograph by Trunk Hotel

For tastemakers
££ Trunk Hotel

The cool kid on the Shibuya block is all about sustainability. ‘Locally sourced’, ‘recycled’ and ‘eco-friendly’ are phrases that apply to most things in the hotel, from glassware crafted from recycled light bulbs to Shibuya-made honey (available from the in-house lifestyle store). The bar is lined with upcycled cork stools — order the Getting Trunk, a cocktail mixed with Ogasawara rum and hōjicha tea — or lap up locavore life at Trunk Kitchen, which serves health-conscious cuisine like an on-trend vegan breakfast. Each of the 15 guest rooms is different, ranging from a simple standard affair to a sprawling, dual-level terrace suite with a plunge pool. And to lure you away from the Trunk experience, excursions include fish market tours and home-cooked meals with locals.
Rooms: From €261 (£224), room only.

For dancing queens
££ Hotel Koé

Set amid the glass-and-chrome towers of Shibuya, Hotel Koé welcomes guests into an industrial maze of exposed pipes and polished concrete, interspersed with pops of light wood. In contrast to the sunny lower floors, the 10 rooms above throw up a dark-and-stormy vibe: charcoal walls, mood lighting, grey-tiled bathrooms. They range in size from ‘S’ to ‘XL’ — the latter a corner room with a lengthy lounge. But it’s not just about R&R: there are spaces dedicated to food, fashion and music. A bakery-restaurant plates colourful breakfasts like smoked salmon over eggs benedict, a shop stocks own-brand apparel, while an events space sees guest DJs spinning the decks at weekends.
Rooms: From £195, B&B.

For design devotees
££ Claska

Claska is no cookie-cutter hotel. Each of its 20 rooms are the brainchild of a different architect (or designer). Themes range from ‘modern’ (clean-lines, airy spaces, Japanese-style furniture) to ‘tatami’ (a pared-back, modern take on classic ryokan decor) and ‘story’ (inspired by Japanese novels and concepts). Located in the hip, southwestern hood of Nakameguro, this hotel is a little far-flung, but it’s a destination in itself: you’ll also find several galleries, a rooftop terrace hosting summer film screenings, a shop selling lifestyle products, and Kiokuh, which serves French-inspired fare like roasted wagyu with potato puree. And for forays into the city, there’s a fleet of tokyobike bicycles.
Rooms: From ¥13,000 (£90), room only.

Do-C Ebisu
Photograph by Nacása & Partners Inc

For sauna & sleep
£ Do-C Ebisu

The do-c concept can be summed up in two words: sleep and sauna. Revamped last year, the capsule hotel’s newly pared-back look means plenty of plywood and concrete. Check in and receive a bag with a towel, pyjamas, toothbrush and toiletries — for that sleepover feel. The capsules (separated into men’s and women’s areas) are retro-beige and stacked two-high with just enough space to sit up in. Finnish-style saunas on the ninth and third floors are welcome additions, scented with mint essence and heated to a scorching 90C. They include cooling showers, ranging from 30C to a frigid 15C. This isn’t the spot to sweat the small stuff.
Rooms: From ¥4,900 (£33) for an overnight stay (including sauna use), ¥1,500 (£10) for a one-hour nap and ¥1,000 (£6) for an hour in the sauna. 

For rooftop hangs
£ One@Tokyo

You can’t miss it: an entrance latticed with timber planks is the creative opener, hinting at what lies beyond. This warehouse-style set-up has 142 minimalist rooms, ranging from studios to lofts and suites. Each has a smartphone with a city guide, and free calls to 16 countries (including the UK). When the phone guides you back to base, tuck into a six-course meal or head to the rooftop for full-frontal Tokyo Skytree views.
Rooms: From ¥10,000 (£67), B&B.

For bibliophiles on a budget
£ Book and Bed Shinjuku

Savants can sleep easy at this bonkers hostel, where bookcases double as compact capsule beds. This branch of the Tokyo hostel chain, opened last May in neon-lit Shinjuku, follows its signature industrial chic aesthetic: concrete floors, exposed pipes, plywood shelves packed with thousands of tomes. The 55 guest rooms range from singles, accessed via a ladder, to cosy king size. The brand's first cafe, meanwhile, has a theme colour: try the black espresso tonic using Fuglen Tokyo beans or avocado on jet-black toast.
Rooms: From £35, room only.

For Japanophiles
£ Andon Ryokan

Catch some z’s in old-school Japanese style at Andon, a traditional inn with a modern twist. Its 24 no-frills rooms contain futons and tatami mats, while bathrooms are communal; elsewhere, a pop-art-tiled whirlpool bath can be booked for a soak. The ryokan also serves as an antiques showroom: look for the ‘lucky’ fukusuke dolls in public spaces. And for a further cultural nose-dive, book a flower-arranging session or calligraphy lesson.
Rooms: From ¥6,500 (£44), room only.

Published in the Jul/Aug 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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