Embrace Tokyo’s two faces with this luxury introduction to modern and traditional Japan.
Words Stephanie King
There is no place in the world like Tokyo. There is no city in which you can feel so overwhelmed, so completely entranced and yet find such stillness. Here’s how to experience the best of this intense dichotomy.
If the first aim of any trip is to eschew clichéd tourist traps, Park Hyatt New York Bar (à la Lost in Translation) is out. But enlisting the expert help of InsideJapan is a necessity; when you have someone like Tyler Palma to show you hidden bars in Shibuya and get you into locals-only izakayas (Japan’s answer to a pub), you’re guaranteed to get the real deal. He’ll make sure you see authentic Tokyo, as it lives and breathes, answering questions and giving tips on where to go for fantastic ramen (Hashigo in Ginza) and tempura (Motoyoshi in Minato-ku), or cool places to get great coffee (Blue Bottle, Aoyama). He’ll show you unique pockets of Harajuku and Shimokitazawa, and help you to navigate the mind-boggling technology district, Akihabara. You’ll feel like a native, which will only be enhanced once you check into your ‘home away from home’ – Aman Tokyo.
This isn’t your average home. Yet its gasp-inducing apartment rooms and suites are the pieds-à-terre you’ve always dreamed of owning. In the soaring Otemachi Tower in Marunochi business district, Aman Tokyo will give you a new definition of luxury. Here, showiness is replaced by subtlety and true omotenashi – Japanese hospitality – supersedes obtrusive service. This phenomenal resort, little over a year old, is a modern interpretation of traditional Japanese homes. Materials such as camphor wood, granite and washi paper capture the classic aesthetic and spirit of engawa, which is the transitional area between living and outdoor space.
Panoramic views of Tokyo greet you through floor-to-ceiling windows; advanced home technology introduces you to the city’s latest inventions; and the sumo-sized furo invites you to indulge in Japanese-style bathing. Although if you want to explore Zen and Kampo herb healing spa therapies, simply head downstairs to Aman Spa. Within its 25,000 sq ft wellbeing centre you’ll discover contemporary adaptations of ancient rituals, majestic treatment rooms – each with private observation deck for post-treatment rehydration – Japanese and western-style hot baths, showers and steam rooms, a 30-metre heated swimming pool, and a state-of-the-art gym.
Even frequent spa-goers will be genuinely blown away by the facilities and the therapists’ skills, which should be tested during a 90-minute Seasonal Journey. It doesn’t matter which season you go, Aman Tokyo’s incredible amenities are a brilliant way to say konichiwa to modern Japan.
The ‘must-see’ Tsukiji Fish Market is great for novelty, but you’re better heading straight to Palace Hotel Tokyo, where you can sample the Market’s produce sans queues in the intimate, six-person Tatsumi tempura bar of Wadakura. In the sixth-floor Sushi Kanesaka you can savour Michelin-starred sushi by Shinji Kanesaka, or be introduced to traditional Japanese favourites in the main dining room.
The seasonal kaiseki set menus are the best way to get a comprehensive feel for Wadakura’s impossibly elegant dishes and enjoy Palace Hotel Tokyo’s renowned views of the Imperial Palace Garden and East Tokyo’s skyline.
Minutes’ walk north, Nihonbashi’s sophisticated streets are glittered with luxury department stores housing international designer labels and heritage brands manufacturing fine traditional crafts. Weary legs find respite in the terrifically elegant surrounds of Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. Perched on the 38th floor of Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower, it’s not the only thing that is sky-high; service here is impeccable.
Never has there been more attentive yet utterly unobtrusive staff anticipating your needs before you even do. This extends from the moment you enter the palatial foyer, through to the opulent day spa with Asian and western treatments, the sleek, high-tech fitness centre, and the twelve international bar and dining options. Refuelling at Sense, the fine Chinese restaurant, is wise; the fare is famous as are views of the cityscape and the iconic Skytree®.
If you want to get up close and personal with this impressive landmark, it’s possible to arrange a private helicopter charter.
In the 80-minute ride, the Eurocopter Hermès Edition hovers over Tokyo’s skyline, natural wonders Sagami Bay and Lake Ashinoko and the iconic and serenly beautiful Mount Fuji.
Even in the slightly smaller rooms feel incredibly regal, with their stained wood, leather and silk forms. And, when you add in the Michelin-starred French restaurant, Signature, the ground floor fruit shop with the city’s most expensive fruit, and a particularly Instagrammable patisserie, you quickly realise this is the place for a truly decadent take on classic Tokyo.