Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sleeping in Tokyo

     Tokyo has numerous luxury hotels and many of them are members of major hotel groups, so you will recognize the brands immediately. Also note that most major chains have a hotel near Narita airport.  Remember, Narita is not Tokyo, so unless you are on an overnight layover, you don’t want to stay out near the airport. If you have an early morning departure, consider spending the night near the airport, it alleviates stress enormously.
     Location means everything in Tokyo, so try to pick a hotel that is conveniently located to the sights you want to see and shop or to a good subway line. Hotels are also expensive in Tokyo; this is not a city where you want to skimp on western style amenities, unless you are under the age of 30 and studying Asian culture. There is no such thing as a secret little find here; trust the chains and go for reputation and location.
     My advice is to shop around a little bit for a hotel online. Cruise the big sites –, expedia - and then go directly to the hotel’s website. Chances are the price will be the same or lower and you’ll have the advantage of booking directly. Note that there are no grande-dame style hotels in town since Tokyo was pretty much destroyed in 1945. The Imperial Hotel is the most famous hotel but it is no longer old fashioned and has a glitzy tower attached to it now. We did prowl around the iconic Imperial for an hour looking for the Frank Lloyd Wright portions of the hotel only to discover they have been shipped to a museum.

The Peninsula Hotel Tokyo

     Liz and I stayed at the Pen. It was Liz’s first visit to Tokyo and with only four days in town, we decided to splurge. No other address in Tokyo offers you a combination of luxe lifestyle, the best bathrooms in Tokyo and an ideal shopping location; staying here makes Tokyo feel easy to handle.

     Relatively new, the Pen is modern and more gorgeous than any art gallery. We had a junior suite overlooking the gardens of the Imperial Palace and were spoiled beyond words…  Starting with a fabulous breakfast from room service (the sublime French toast), I then had to decide whether to dance under the rainforest showerhead in the shower stall or soak in the giant tub that has TV controls built alongside the wall. A natural stone chimney is actually the water pipe, delivering water right into the tub with a neat slosh. Going to the toilet in the middle of the night is tricky, as the Toto opens its lid for you on approach...frightening in middle of night. Alas, it does not flush itself.
     Staying at the Peninsula teaches you the value of your big bucks-- there is no way to put a value on the luxury, the glamour of the other guests, the location, and the ability of the staff to speak English and understand your needs. It’s worth the price of admission just to stare at the other guests … This Tokyo - near Ginza and Chanel and the heart of the money land - is so different from other parts of town and yet so exciting and important to see and experience. If you have only one life to live, or only a few nights in Tokyo, this is the place to be. 

My other faves, by chain:

CONRAD: I really like this hotel despite its rather oddball location near Tokyo Bay. There is a bit of trudging to get to a subway station. Nonetheless, rooms are large, there are good restaurants in the hotel and there can be promotional rates.

FOUR SEASONS: The Marunouchi hotel is tiny (only 57 rooms), fancy, welcoming and is next door to Tokyo Station which makes getting to the airport and to Kyoto a breeze.

HYATT: There are three Hyatts, each totally different from the others—The Grand Hyatt is in a shopping mall in Roppongi Hills, the Park Hyatt is the famous high-rise tower featured in the Sofia Copolla movie Lost in Translation and the Hyatt Regency is in Shinjuku. 

INTERCONTINENTAL: With two hotels in Tokyo, InterConti has a high-rise hotel in Akasaka near the U.S. Embassy (the ANA InterConti) and another near Tokyo Bay called Strings. The high-rise ANA tower in Akasaka has a great Club Floor with view to much of Tokyo and various big name chef eats. Be sure to request a renovated room and a bathroom with a heated toilet.

OKURA: This is a Japanese chain of newish luxury hotels; I always stay at their hotel in Kyoto because of the location and I like the Tokyo location near the U.S. Embassy. You can often get a room for under $250 a night, which is a deal in Tokyo.

RITZ CARLTON: Many guests call this ‘The Ritz’ which I wouldn’t do because this hotel is not related to the ones built at the turn of the 20th century by Cesar Ritz. Ritz Carlton has worked hard at making an impact in Asia—they have a stunning hotel in Hong Kong, they have one of the best hotels in Shenzhen and many great places in the PRC. In Tokyo, the hotel has an Akasaka address that is convenient.

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