By Gunjan Sewhani
Honor Dargan of the U.K. Telegraph puts it perfectly when he states: "Tokyo has an energy that's hard to put your finger on. It's not overt. It's not in your face. But there's an intangible fizzle and crackle in the air that makes this place breathe." As a New Yorker, I crave this sort of energy—the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life fulfills, uplifts, and drives me every day.
Escape to the Hotel Chinzanso and you will find both the pulse of urban living as well as verdant sanctuary. In the heart of Tokyo, Japan, the Hotel Chinzanso is one of the few places in the world that simultaneously fulfills your desire to experience the epitome of a modern metropolis as well as to retreat from it all. How does it manage to do this? The hotel is located in Mejiro, in uptown Tokyo. It is surrounded by lush gardens that shield the three buildings of the hotel from the busy streets of Tokyo and encapsulate it in a state of serenity. Nevertheless, the metro is a couple of minutes away, and cabs to take you into the bustling areas of Tokyo are abundant.
The hotel itself is as embedded in history and traditional Japanese values as the rest of the city. The land upon which the hotel is built was bought by the Prime Minister of Japan in 1878 for his home: he named it Chinzan-so. The gardens of the hotel are home to historic sites as well: the three-story pagoda, the 500-year-old sacred tree, Han'nya-Ji style stone lanterns, the Koshin tower, the Shiratama Inari shrine, and the Seven Deities of Good Fortune.
Meandering throughout the gardens allows you to immerse yourself in the history, flora and fauna of this famed piece of Japanese land through the daily tours—complimentary for all hotel guests. Traditional Japanese tea houses are nestled amongst cherry blossoms and hold the millennia-old tea ceremonies that took place there.
While the grounds of the hotel are woven with the stories of ancient Japan, the traditional Japanese values that shape the ebb and flow of Japanese interactions are also prominent within the luxurious setting of the hotel. Strict cultural rules deem the norms of the city, but within the confines of the hotel, they manifest themselves as "Omotenashi." Omotenashi can be loosely defined as Japanese hospitality, but this English interpretation barely does it justice.
Omotenashi shapes the entire Chinzanso experience; it is a word and a concept that is embedded in Japanese cultural DNA. Japanese hosts strive to create an atmosphere in which the individual's needs are catered to in a peaceful, jovial and non-dominant fashion—anticipating the individual's needs before they may even be realized. The vibe is not effusive or overly fussy; rather, a delicate balance is found between being attentive and considerate yet not invasive and inauthentic. The hospitality that comes across is a natural extension of societal values, rather than a superficial display of catering to and entertaining visitors.
Onto the food. Tokyo is a hotspot when it comes to culinary experiences, and the Chinzanso represents the culinary diversity of Tokyo at large, but a wonderfully luxurious sliver of the variety available. Sushi and sashimi are obvious choices, but there is so much more to try. Each of the twelve restaurants is a fusion of atmospheric, culinary and waitressing perfection.
One can delve into Japanese tradition whilst experiencing a tea ceremony or sushi and sashimi from the finest chefs of Tokyo, or branch out and enjoy fine Italian or French cuisine. Ingredients are derived from the Japanese archipelago, and the menus change seasonally. The specialty of "kaiseki"—the Japanese version of haute cuisine—is a favorite. Kaiseki is a multi-course dinner that strives for a balance among taste, texture, appearance and colors of the culinary creations. The specialty of soba noodles is also available.
The rooms are as phenomenal as you would expect. The largest suites are up to 3000 square feet—an astonishing spread for a city cramped for space. Guests have the choice of either garden views or stunning city views. With L'Occitane bath amenities, plush robes and twice-daily housekeeping, no luxury is compromised.
If you need a little extra pampering, the Yu Spa is the largest hotel spa in all of Tokyo, with a swimming pool, hot spring and fitness center. The hot spring waters draw upon the hot spring Ito from Shizuoka Prefecture well outside Tokyo. The springs are just one example of the many natural and cultural gems of Japan that are ensconced into the hotel: truly a metaphor for the dynamic between the city of Tokyo and the hotel. The hotel brings in the best from throughout the city and is a manifestation of Japan's culture at its most luxurious.