Tokyo is a city of paradoxes: In the shadows of ultramodern skyscrapers is a grid of quiet alleys lined with traditional wooden homes and small shrines tucked within lush gardens. Tokyo can boast more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world, yet yakitori street vendors, informal izakaya bars and family-run ramen shops can be found around every corner. It is orderly, spotless and fashionable, yet seedy, frenzied and kitschy. Everywhere, a unique equilibrium has been achieved between reverence for the past and passion for the contemporary. The new 84-room Aman Tokyo, set in the top six floors of the 38-story Otemachi Tower, proved to be an embodiment of this balance.
I have long been an admirer of Aman resorts, with their striking architecture and serene locations. Therefore, the December 2014 debut of its only urban property — in a portfolio of 30 hotels — was of consuming interest. I was eager to see whether Aman had managed to maintain its signature style of discreet and refined luxury in such a hectic downtown location a few minutes’ walk from Tokyo Station.
An inconspicuous entry off a bamboo-lined passageway led to an ear-popping elevator that launched us to the reception area on the 33rd floor. Designed to evoke the feeling of being inside a giant shoji lantern, the atrium lobby has 100-foot ceilings and a garden with an ikebana flower arrangement display, as well as two classic Kyoto-style rock gardens. White partitions create fluid boundaries between the reception area, bar and restaurant. And floor-to-ceiling windows flood the common areas with natural sunlight. In such a vast space done in subdued colors, we instinctively felt a need to whisper. Although on an entirely different scale, the design clearly draws inspiration from that of traditional Japanese ryokans.
After a brief tour of the public spaces led in English by a polite, kimono-clad guest assistant, we were escorted to our room on the 35th floor and asked to remove our shoes. Our elegant Deluxe Room was decorated in cream with jet-black accents and came with pale pine floors and light wood walls; a sunken living area featured low-set furniture, a long daybed and an end table adorned with a bonsai. The materials were predominantly camphor wood, stone and washi paper. The sleeping area was well-designed with ceiling lights targeted for reading, but the glow from the standing lamp next to the daybed was more for mood than for illumination. Expansive windows provided unobstructed vistas of the Imperial Palace gardens during the day and panoramic views of the scintillating cityscape at night.
Sliding shoji paper panels opened to a narrow bath redolent of cypress with dual sunken vanities, an unenclosed standing shower and a modern square-shaped furo (soaking tub) with a black basalt surround. Alas, I found the tub too short to allow for a relaxing soak, and the showerhead proved too low. Overall, the aesthetic flawlessly combined contemporary accents with elements of traditional Japanese design.
Though the hotel was fully booked, the public areas offered a tranquil, almost zen-like atmosphere. A library is stocked with books on Japanese art and culture, and an elegant cigar lounge with a built-in humidor is located near the intimate bar. Throughout our stay, the lobby was often empty; the library was invariably deserted; and the bar never sparked into life. The restaurant, however, was quite dynamic.
Located on a corner of the 33rd floor, The Restaurant by Aman serves seasonally inspired European cuisine. (Indigenous fare is available only at breakfast, when there is a choice between Western and Japanese menus.) At dinner, one of my favorite dishes was the “carpaccio” of abalone and filefish served with Italian osetra caviar, organic vegetables from Kitayama Farm at the foot of Mount Fuji and an abalone liver sauce. The sautéed foie gras with shiitake mushrooms, Yamagata bamboo shoots and a tart sherry vinaigrette was also delicious. Our meal concluded with a creamy Tahitian vanilla parfait with champagne foam. The service was consistently attentive, and dishes were served unobtrusively. A new dining option is the indoor/outdoor Café by Aman on the ground floor that features seasonal Mediterranean-inspired fare and an extensive sake menu.
Our experience with room service was much less satisfactory. I called in an order at around 10 p.m. and was told that only the midnight menu was available. The options were limited and consisted of prosaic international dishes such as a Caesar salad with smoked duck; hamburger with a mushroom ragout; and penne with an Angus beef Bolognese. The food arrived much earlier than the estimated 80 minutes — a pleasant surprise — but my udon soup was lukewarm; the pasta was drowning in sauce; and the salad’s anchovy croutons were stale.
The chief amenity at the hotel is a two-floor, 27,000-square-foot spa with eight treatment rooms and a fitness center containing a yoga and Pilates studio. The 98-foot basalt-lined indoor infinity pool is designed so that the nearby skyscrapers are invisible from the water, and on clear days, Mount Fuji can be seen in the distance. In the changing areas, large hot baths are discreetly hidden behind frosted doors. There, customary Japanese bathing rituals are followed, with traditional cypress stools and wooden buckets being part of the preliminary cleansing ritual. The space is absolutely quiet. The “Signature Journey” treatment began with a footbath that combined seasonal Kampo (traditional Chinese) therapeutic herbs and mineral salt. The following 30-minute body scrub was unusually intense. After a rinse under a high-pressure shower in a private dressing area, the treatment continued with a massage employing warm body oils made from nioikobushi (magnolia) and sakura (cherry blossom). Aman resorts are justly renowned for their spas, and this one did not disappoint.
In spite of a few service issues — perhaps forgivable in a new hotel — Aman Tokyo provides a welcome retreat from the downtown hustle and bustle. The city has long lacked a boutique hotel of this caliber, and I would not hesitate to return on a future visit to Japan’s fascinating capital.
The professional, English-speaking staff; the impressive city views from all rooms.
The uninspired evening room service menu; the cramped tub in the bath.
The hotel is a 10-minute walk from the Imperial Palace gardens; request a southwest-facing room to catch views of Mount Fuji on clear days.