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A city within a hotel: Keio Plaza Tokyo REVIEW

MARK HARADA checks into a Tokyo institution, with family in tow, to find a hotel you almost never have to leave.

The lobby


Bigger isn’t always better, but in the case of the Keio Plaza Hotel, you get the feeling it is. 


One of Tokyo’s largest hotels, the Keio Plaza has over 1400 guest rooms across two towers, ranging from standard doubles and unique four-bedded lodging to Japanese Tatami Suites. The property, Japan’s first skyscraper hotel when it opened in 1971, even has two ridiculously cute Hello Kitty rooms - for guests with young daughters (like myself) or just young-minded grown-ups - and in Japan, there are a lot of those. 


But with its vast inventory, come a variety of experiences, to the point where the Keio is almost a destination in itself. Ikebana classes take place a couple of times a month; yukata (casual kimono) rentals more often. There are also sizeable exhibitions in a space on the ground floor. During our stay, there’s a beautiful homage to the Geiko and Maiko culture of Kyoto worthy of a place in an actual gallery.


Kyoto exhibition


A few floors up, almost hidden, a shoji door reveals a space that wouldn’t be out of place in a traditional Japanese inn (‘ryokan’). Here, among small water features and rock gardens, Keio hosts a traditional green tea (matcha) ceremony experience with tea master Yona, who, very gracefully, guides us through every part of the important ritual.


From entering the ‘sho-fu-an’ tea room (by sliding on your knees through a small ‘nijiriguchi’ entry) to how to hold the cup and even consume the beverage, each process is explained in detail. And much to Yona’s credit, she’s only occasionally distracted by our excited 3-year-old. With its beautiful setting and equally elegant host, it’s little wonder this experience is so popular, apparently we’re told, even with visitors from other hotels.


Our room


Experiences aside, first and foremost, a great hotel needs great guest rooms. Keio has long had those. However it continues to evolve too, most recently with the introduction in December 2016 of its excellent Premier Grand rooms. 


Our corner room on the 39th floor is bright, with wall-to-wall windows allowing for city views even from the comfort of our cosy bed, which is lined with Italian Antonietti sheets. Coloured in soft pastels, the room is big too, especially by Tokyo standards. And of course, all the mod-cons are here, like the large tv, mini bar with espresso machine, and universal chargers. The complimentary mobile phone, which comes with data and free calls also comes in handy when we’re out and about. 


The bathroom, like in so many Japanese hotels, is compartmentalized. There’s a bath/shower room, from which you can view the city through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, a wash basin, and toilet that is totally automated (from opening on cue to flushing - welcome to Japan). Toiletries from L'Occitane Provence and Shiseido complement the super absorbent Imabari towels, soft slippers and robes, which even come in kiddy sizes.


Welcome refreshments


Check in for Premier Grand rooms is on the spacious and stylish 45th floor lounge, which along with its dedicated concierge service boasts jaw-dropping views of neighbouring Shinjuku, Tokyo and on a clear day even Mt Fuji. Here, guests can simply relax or retreat to a number of food and beverage services on offer, from candied fruit, cakes and sandwiches in the afternoon to champagne and hors d’ oeuvres later in the evening. A visit is worth it for the amazing Shinshu-brand juices alone.


Away from the Club Lounge, the hotel almost has too many dining options, if that’s possible. A microcosm of the eating scene outside, there are 15 establishments in all, from teppanyaki and tempura at Shun, to Chinese and Korean fare, to sushi and dedicated soba restaurant Fumotoya.


For breakfast, we opt for the Japanese/western buffet at at the Glass Court. Here traditional breakfast staples like natto (fermented soy beans) and Japanese curry are served alongside soups, salads and sweets, as well as a smorgasbord of western favourites largely prepared in an open kitchen. In contrast to the crowded ground-floor buffet, the club lounge serves a western breakfast in more peaceful surrounds.    


Kagari dinner


In the evening we dine at the haute Kagari restaurant, which serves set menus of locally inspired seafood and oden (hotpot) dishes alongside fresh, organic vegetables all presented on exquisite crockery and ceramics. Think grilled horsehead tilefish, deep-fried crab and taro, ‘yuba’ tofu skin, and soba noodles with cooked herring. Even the desserts, oft overlooked in Japanese cuisine, are mouthwatering, like the red bean ‘soup’ with soft mochi (rice cake) and chestnut.


To accompany the meal, the excellent Keio Plaza Private Brand Sake lives up to its ‘soft, mild and smooth’ billing, and will have you thinking twice about ordering any regular (i.e. grape) wine. On top of all of this, the service, which has to contend with a sometimes restless three-year-old, is faultless. 


Chefs at Kagari


And if children aren’t already well catered for throughout the hotel, the Keio Plaza often features specially themed dining experiences, like the current Alice in Wonderland-inspired dessert buffets.


Almost worthy of its own postcode, the hotel also boasts a fitness centre, massage services, salons, a nursing room, MICE and business facilities, boutiques, a (summertime) pool and even a photo studio. 


Just don’t expect to experience it all in one go. Like Tokyo, this hotel - a small city in itself - is well worth many visits. 


The writer was a guest of the Keio Plaza HotelAll images by Mark Harada


Tea ceremony
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Written by: Mark Harada
Published: 20 November 2018

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