Room Number: Where to Stay During the Tokyo Film Festival
In her column Room Number, travel expert Melissa Schwartz of Destination Happiness -- whose client roster ranges from WME agent superstars to Wall Street titans -- reveals her favorite rooms in a different location on the entertainment industry travel circuit.
The room of choice in Tokyo, where the Tokyo International Film Festival kicked off Thursday, is the very generous 800-square-foot Executive Suite Room No. 1708 in the Palace Hotel Tokyo (1-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda). In a city where space itself is an extravagant luxury, this suite overlooks the regal gardens of the Imperial Palace, making it quite possibly like no other spot in this town of thousands of incredible places.
This iconic hotel reopened in May 2012 after being closed for years for a $1.2 billion ground-up redevelopment including exquisite rooms, a galaxy of restaurants and bars and Japan's first Evian Spa. It is, unanimously, the new high standard of luxury. But even with this tremendous cash infusion and modern infrastructure, the wholly Japanese-owned and -managed hotel, very purposely, has not forsaken its Japanese roots, omotenashi (hospitality) and unfiltered celebration of Japan’s culture. Together with the bold and sophisticated yet refined design of the hotel itself, it is the owners’ desire to inspire its guests with a celebration of some of Japan’s most honored contemporary Japanese artists through its extensive collection of paintings, mixed-media art and sculpture showcased throughout the public and private spaces of the hotel.
As you approach the hotel, you are immediately dazzled by its striking aji granite exterior walls and driveway and the confluence of ancient and modern, traditional and contemporary touches. When you venture into the soaring but understated lobby with its awe-inspiring views, you feel as if you have been invited to experience an opulent, but classically restrained, residence. Even the signature scent is surprising and exceptional (and the spa offers it for your personal enjoyment). Among the bold elements of the art collection is prominent artist Nakabayashi’s towering glass-enclosed foil sheet and iron Japanese pine tree/iris sculpture, commissioned as a special tribute to the Imperial Palace gardens.
There are 278 guestrooms in the 23-story hotel plus 12 suites (daily rates range from $500 to $10,000). The richness of Japan’s culture is embodied in Room No. 1708 (daily rate of $1,200), which echoes both the splendor and serenity of Japan’s most famous garden, with its carpets hand-tufted in tranquil leafy patterns and an overall color palette of warm and inviting muted cream and gold earth tones with delicious deep lavender accents, bathed in delectable sounds emanating from the suite’s special beautiful light wood M System music speakers, all suggesting the natural beauty of the neighboring garden’s splendor. Couple this with sublime art from the hotel collection, incorporating concepts inspired from the surrounding water and greenery, and you feel fully immersed in the essence of Japanese culture. This all serves as the backdrop for the room's contemporary furnishings, suggesting traditional shoji-like stillness mixed with a sophisticated panache. It’s a soothing contrast to an afternoon spent along Marunouchi Naka Dori, the tree-lined shopping mecca just steps away from the hotel, every bit the equal of Rodeo Drive or the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, which then beckons directly into the Ginza, one of the most luxurious shopping districts on the planet.
Upon your return, retreat to the suite’s centerpiece: a sumptuous Japanese wet room embracing the traditional principles of the art of the Japanese bath: harmony, simplicity, balance and tranquility, tempered with a yen for serenity. The classic marble and glass space melds shower and deep soaking tub (ofuro). After toweling off with your Japanese cashmere-like Imbari towels, you can retreat to the majestic terrace, stretching 30 feet along the full length of the suite, accessible from both the bedroom (with its extravagant Hyogo linens) and living room. There you can quietly sip a cup of Maruyama Nori tea in handmade tea cups in the Mashiko-yaki style of pottery dating back to Japan’s Nara period, while (hopefully) gazing upon the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko strolling through their garden below. This remarkable terrace is one of the extraordinary elements that makes this room our Tokyo "Room Number" top choice. In this land of towering steel-and-glass high-rise hotels, the mere existence of a private terrace is an incredible rarity, especially one of such grandeur and scale.
When you are finally ready to explore the city, here are five not-to-be missed treats:
1. Tokyo Metropolitan Central Market, aka Tsukiji Market (5 Chome 2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo)
Love sushi or maybe just a great tuna fish sandwich on rye? See where it all comes from by visiting Tokyo’s famous tuna auction, held inside the planet’s largest wholesale fish, vegetable and fruit market, the Tsukiji, located in central Tokyo (where more than 2,000 tons of marine products alone are handled every day). You must go early in the morning (registration opens at 4:30 a.m.) to enter the very-limited-access inner market to witness the hustle 'n' bustle workings of the exciting tuna auction in action.
2. Hermes Helicopter Tokyo (based at Narita International Airport)
Pressed for time after your flight to Tokyo? Need to get to downtown in 20 minutes, and style matters more (or at least as much) as speed? Charter the $10 million Hermes Eurocopter EC 135 (inaugurated by Tom Cruise in 2009) for a dash to the city and feel like you’re riding inside a Birkin bag with the black-and-white chopper’s opulent Hermes-orange calf leather seats and accoutrement and leather-trimmed controls.
3. Bar Gen Yamamoto (1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku Tokyo)
This intimate eponymous bar, which seats only eight (better call for reservations), is the loving concoction of master mixologist Yamamoto, who spent years in NYC with acclaimed chef David Bouley and helped open Bouley’s French-inspired take on traditional Japanese cuisine, Brushstroke. Behind his 500-year-old Japanese oak (mizunara) bar, he offers specialty cocktails featuring fresh fruits and vegetables, from singular mixtures to flights of his delicate and complex beverages. Try his Spanish gin combined with pulped Shizuoka tomato, garnished with a simple shiso leaf. This is a place for quiet conversation, a true escape from the cacophony of Tokyo.
4. Ore no Kappo (8-8-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku Tokyo)
How does the idea of eating gourmet cuisine, signature dishes prepared with the finest quality ingredients (lobster, wagyu, foie gras, duck) by Michelin-stared chefs in lavish interiors at premium locations -- at a target price of $35/person -- sound? How about if you have to stand waiting with the throngs in line for an hour before the doors open and then eat standing up at a counter (albeit a very nice counter)? With photos in the windows of the chefs standing with arms akimbo and sleeves rolled up, that is the wildly successful concept of the Value Create group (affectionately known as “Michelin for the Masses!”) with its Italian, French, Asian BBQ and now, high-end traditional Japanese restaurants. "Ore no" means “my”; "Kappo" means “high-end traditional Japanese eatery”. But watch out: There are plans to bring an Ore no Kappo to NYC. Isn’t it enough to strap-hang while standing in a crowded subway, but now for dinner, too?
5. Sukiyabashi Jiro (Tsukamoto Sogyo Building, Basement Floor 1, 2-15, Ginza)
Some people pray in a church, others in a synagogue, still others in a mosque. But for sushi disciples, there is only this place. This 10-seat three-Michelin star temple of sushi freshness, purity and artistry presided over by chef Jiro Ono is harder to get into than Al Capone’s favorite speakeasy (plus, no one there speaks English, so it is known to be less than friendly to non-Japanese; the best way to get in is to enlist a Japanese sidekick to make the reservation and bring you along as their hallowed guest). Subject of a famous documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the sushi (just sushi -- fish and rice -- is served) is so fresh it tastes like it was caught three minutes ago. Must-haves include his akami, chutoro and otoro, the ultimate triumvirate of tuna nigiri, from the leanest to the fattiest. But bring your trust fund; a meal typically lasts only 30-35 minutes (20 pieces consumed at a piece per minute for optimum taste, per Jiro), and costs ¥30,000 (about $300) per person. But very well worth it. If you can’t get in (or your Japanese friend is out of town), try two-Michelin-star Sushi Kanesaka (8-10-3 Ginza, Chuo); an English-happy spot that rivals Jiro for an incredible sushi experience, with its delicate, subtle, and just-as-fresh offerings. Chef Kanesaka trained for years at Kyubey (with Steven Spielberg and Nicolas Cage counted as regulars) before opening his own tiny place. With meals running about $250/head, his sublime red snapper and sweet shrimp mixture, chutoro sashimi and decadent otoro are but a sampling of his wares. As the locals say, Honto ni suki desu (I really like it)!