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Inside Tokyo's secret ryokan

A review of Hoshinoya Tokyo

She stood, still and smiling, as a crowd of suited workers rushed past her. If that moment had been a painting, she'd be ever still and ever smiling; timeless, amid a swirl of flashing lights and business suits.


We had just spent a night at Hoshinoya Tokyo and she was their parting gift, a farewell to transport us from a taste of a bygone era into the sudden onslaught that is Tokyo.



You don't just arrive at Tokyo. You are thrown into it. After landing in Narita the night before, we are soon on the Narita Express, flying through countryside and cities. It is only when we exit the historic Tokyo station that the pace slows (as slow as can ever be expected in Tokyo).


We walk some ten minutes through easing crowds of commuters and stop in front of a building that seems to be inlaid with floral cutouts. Heavy wooden doors open in front of us and the Tokyo of today slips into the quiet welcome of the city's tower ryokan.



Staff in traditional garb greet us in an entryway that harkens back to the Edo era. We are asked to remove our shoes and as we do so, leave behind our travel weariness, and in its place feel a sudden excitement to explore this magical place. 


And magic it is.



In July of 2014, a hot spring was unearthed where Hoshinoya Tokyo stands today. And when you are in Hoshinoya's enclosed bath, looking up into the sky and a sudden, gentle rain begins to fall into the steamy water, time stops.


The immediate vicinity is teeming with restaurants but once we're in our room we don't (ever) want to leave (believe me, giving up those keys was hard). But in-room dining here is something that shouldn't be missed.


There's a knock at the door and two members of staff enter with a Japanese version of an esky (which means infinitely more beautiful). They add cushions to our 'armchairs', assemble a small table and then attach two side tables together.



They leave behind a picturesque array of dishes in front of us and we begin to eat, delicately at first (as the setting dictates), then hungrily devouring the best Japanese curry I've ever tasted (and I've tasted a lot). The salad dressing too, has us glad we are alone in our room as we unashamedly lick clean anything it has touched.


Sated, we call Reception (which seems such a ugly, modern word for this whole experience) and the remnants of dinner disappears. At an equally mind blowing breakfast, the ritual is repeated and it's at this point we wonder if we'll have the ability to face the real world ever again. 



But there is no denying the real world at Hoshinoya Tokyo. Hoshino Resorts chief executive Yoshiharu Hoshino doesn't want that. Instead, he says that Hoshinoya Tokyo is a "manifestation of an imaginary Tokyo where the ryokan culture has continually evolved instead of fading away".


And as we return to a busy Tokyo morning, our shoes firmly on and a packed itinerary ahead, we are escorted part of the way to the station by one of the staff who gracefully shuffles beside us, smiling until we say our goodbyes.



We look back and see her waiting still and know then that Tokyo's ryokan culture is safe in the hands of Hoshinoya Tokyo.


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Written by: Gaya Avery
Published: 23 September 2016

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