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HOSHINOYA Tokyo lies in the city's economic center,
a short walk from Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace.
In contrast with its grand facade, the 17-story hotel offers a relaxed ambience
with a sense of intimacy and surprise--qualities that are rooted in traditional Japanese hospitality.
Each floor is an exclusive domain, accessible only by the guests staying there,
and with a dedicated staff in place to meet their every need, as well as to maintain
the elegant customs that have been honored for centuries at the traditional Japanese inn--the ryokan.
Initially, the ryokan appears as a tall black monolith that blends in with its surroundings, a landscape of towering office buildings that compose Tokyo's financial heart. As you get closer, you see that its dark exterior is actually an elegant lattice of leaf-like patterns, or komon, that veils the ryokan. Outside the entrance are multihued stone benches shaped like boats and planters that resemble ikebana vases, forming a contemporary Zen garden. You soon realize there is nothing monolithic about this ryokan.
The enormous entryway door--made from a single cut of cypress--quietly opens. A guide in a kimono greets you with a smile, closing the door behind you as you step inside. Suddenly, all noise has come to a standstill. A long tatami hallway extends before you, ending at an alcove that displays a seasonal ikebana arrangement. An impressive array of bamboo shoeboxes lines the hallway. You take off your shoes and walk down the hallway in your socks. It is what you had imagined a traditional ryokan would be, and yet completely different. You quietly marvel at this seamless marriage of the traditional and the contemporary.
To the sound of wooden clappers, you arrive at your floor--a ryokan within the ryokan composed of guestrooms and a lounge called an ochanoma. Seasonal sake and confectionery are set out in the lounge for guests on the same floor to enjoy at any time. You imagine you will be spending a lot of time here, and that you may often encounter the other guests. Perhaps, you might make some new friends. The books in the lounge change throughout the day, as if an invisible proprietor were letting his presence and character be felt. You begin to understand the importance of the ochanoma in ryokan culture. It is more than just a common living space for guests; it is the beating heart of the establishment.
As you put on the kimono that has been laid out for you in your room, you notice how quiet it is. It is an elegant silence that permeates the ryokan, accentuating the details--such as the aesthetic shadows that form on the tatami floor as sunlight passes through the komon-patterned lattice veiling the building, the scent of bamboo released when opening the closet, and the intricate tatami grains. Every element stimulates the senses, emboldening you to venture into town while dressed in your kimono.
You sink yourself into an indoor hot spring bath fed from 1,500 meters below Tokyo. The thick, saline waters have an energizing effect; you feel a deep vitality coursing through your body. A tunnel leads away from the bath; you wade through it and emerge into the outdoor bath. A gentle night breeze blows in through the open roof, a privilege afforded by the bath's location on the top floor. You gaze up at the sky. It is a serene expanse of black, almost unblemished by the glare of city lights. For a moment, you forget you are in the center of one of the busiest metropolises in the world.
From the minute you stepped into the ryokan, you have been immersed in a world unlike any you have visited. It is a world where one is constantly enveloped in the aroma of sandalwood woven into the tatami, and where one is reminded of the beauty of the seasons through spectacular flower arrangements. Gentle lighting, soft kimonos, and plush bedding induce relaxation, while conversations in the ochanoma and meals designed around lesser-known delicacies of Japanese cuisine provide pleasant stimulation. You hope to return during a different season so you can experience all this again, as if for the first time.