Selecting that it hotel for wherever I am traveling solo is one my biggest travel challenges. For many people, deciding where they want to stay is not a big deal as long as it is in their price and comfort range, but for me it can make or break my travel experience.
Characteristics of a Great Hotel
A great hotel can add so much to a trip. Superb restaurants, attentive service personnel, a distinctive decor with a high standard of cleanliness, quiet rooms with comfortable beds, free wifi and in-room safes, a full service spa and a comfortable lounge are a few basic amenities that lay the foundation for a superior hotel. For a hotel to stand out or to rise to the iconic level, it must possess unique features that other hotels do not offer. In addition, it should have a distinctive ambience that makes its guests feel something extraordinary, like there is something magical in the air.
Affordably Priced 5 Star Tokyo Hotels are Scarce
Prior to leaving on my three and a half week journey to Japan, I did extensive hotel research. Five star hotels in Japan tend to be very expensive, especially in Tokyo. Per night room rates for luxury hotels typically range from $500-$1,250. Ouch!! In the world’s most expensive cities like London, Paris, Singapore and, yes Tokyo, I am willing to pay up to $450 per night but anything more than that eats into my budget too much. Consequently, finding a luxury hotel which was affordable that had a special Japanese vibe was difficult.
Top 5 Affordably Priced 5 Star Hotels in Tokyo
To my pleasant surprise, my hotel search revealed five 5 star hotels in my price point. I weeded out two, the Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel and the Pullman Tokyo Tamachi, right off the bat because the photos showed these hotels as being modern and cold. For my stay in Tokyo, my first stop on my Japan trip, I wanted a hotel that had an authentic, Japanese ambience. Three affordably priced, luxury hotels: the Intercontinental-ANA Tokyo, the Imperial Hotel and the Hotel New Otani Tokyo- The Main, fit this requirement. I ruled out the Intercontinental-ANA Tokyo because several guest reviews indicated the rooms needed updating.
Decision Time: The Imperial Hotel vs The Hotel New Otani Tokyo, The Main
Making that final decision between 2 excellent hotel choices always stresses me out a little because I am such a stickler for finding and staying at an it hotel. Both of these hotels had fascinating histories with the Imperial Hotel, known as the “Jewel of the Orient,” being the first 5 star hotel built in Tokyo in 1890 which was commissioned by the Imperial family of Japan and the Hotel New Otani near the Akasaka Imperial Palace opened in 1964 to accommodate the 30,000 visitors headed to the Tokyo Olympics that year. Yonetaro Otani was tasked with building the “finest hotel in the Orient.”
The Legendary Imperial Hotel
The Imperial Hotel is legendary. Originally, the hotel was designed by the famous American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. His design concept for the hotel was to blend elements of Eastern and Western aesthetics to create a completely new luxury hotel experience. FLW designed every detail of the hotel including its furnishings, light fixtures and fine china. Unfortunately, the hotel went through a devastating fire and a more modern facility was built in its replacement. Today, the Imperial Hotel still has many of the original design concepts created by FLW such as the wall paneling details and the styling of the furnishings in many of the rooms.
Restrained and refined Japanese elegance is the character of the Imperial hotel’s feel today. Many of the hotel’s staff wear kimono as their uniform and are highly trained in the “art of Japanese hospitality.” Attention to even the most minute detail is the staff’s focus. From the hotel’s inception to now, many heads-of-state, dignitaries, and celebrities chose to make the Imperial Hotel their “home away from home” in Tokyo because the Japanese ambience here is unsurpassed.
In addition to the hotel’s renowned service, it has award-winning restaurants, both Japanese and Continental, wonderful health and beauty spa facilities, the historic Imperial Bar and a Tea Ceremony Room which is available to all guests. Its location is near Ginza, one of the ritziest areas of Tokyo. The guest’s reviews were generally positive but some people felt the hotel needed some updating. Price per night: $330.
The Hotel New Otani, The Main:Tokyo’s Most Unique Luxury Hotel
Similar to the Imperial Hotel, the Hotel New Otani Tokyo, The Main has a fascinating history. A former highly successful businessman, Yonetaro Otani, was asked by the Japanese government to build a fabulous, Japanese style hotel on property he owned near the Akasaka Imperial Palace that had a 400 year old Japanese garden on property. The hotel was to be a world class facility that could accommodate 1000 guests for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and thus, it would be Tokyo’s largest hotel that would be able to host large business convocations, as well as, visiting Heads of State, VIP’s and cultural dignitaries in traditional, timeless Japanese fashion. Mr Otani accepted the offer and created a hotel that is consider a Tokyo accommodations icon.
From the hotel’s website, I learned the hotel had built an additional tower and now could house over 1,500 guests, now that’s Huge! It offered 37 restaurants serving every type of world cuisine, several upscale bars with live entertainment, the largest swimming pool in Tokyo, a full service health and beauty spa, a beauty salon, a barber shop, a flower shop, a drugstore and book store, several souvenir shops, a post office, a chapel, a free standing Tea House and a large, upscale shopping arcade housed in the Basement level. Upon reading this facilities list, I thought,”Wow, this is a city within a city.”
The hotel’s most unique feature was its 400 year old Japanese Garden. Within the 10 acre garden were 42 ancient stone lanterns, scarlet bridges, a koi pond, a stone garden, century old trees and a six meter high waterfall. From the website’s photos, I thought, “this is unbelievable.” Nature is so prominent in the Japan’s Zen culture. To have a gorgeous Japanese Garden to enjoy at the hotel where I would be staying was definitely compelling. Trip Advisor rated the hotel’s garden number 5 on its list of Top 20 Free Attractions in Japan in 2018.
Winner: The Hotel New Otani, The Main
As I shared both the Imperial Hotel and the Hotel New Otani possessed the authentic Japanese character that I wanted in a hotel. Immersing myself in the country’s culture was one of the main goals of this trip. Price wise, the Imperial Hotel’s room rate was $330 per night and the Hotel New Otani’s was $298. Not a lot of difference but just enough to make me lean towards booking the Otani. The deciding factor was, you guessed it, the Japanese Garden!
The Hotel New Otani Critique
My free ride in the hotel’s airport shuttle went smoothly without a hitch. As we pulled up to the hotel, my first impression was, “The hotel looks dated from the outside. I hope I haven’t made the wrong choice.” My fears were relieved the minute I walked in and saw the stunning Japanese floral arrangement in the lobby. The attentive bellmen retrieved my bags and escorted me to the check in counter. The check in was fast and efficient and to my surprise the I was upgraded to an Edo room at no extra charge!! The front desk steward shared the Edo room was a special because of its unique bathrooms, more on this later. In addition the room was decorated with natural materials and Japanese artwork. I was thrilled.
The Edo Hotel Room
I entered my room with a card key and put my tote down and thought to myself, “I’m gonna like it here.” The room was warm, simple and highly functional. It had all of the modern tech amenities a 5 star hotel typically provides such as a flat screen TV, a hotel IPad and free wifi. The bed was queen size, perfect for the solo traveler. Two large pillows and high thread count sheets were also standard. Plush robes and slippers were in the closet, as well as, an in room safe. Free sake was in the mini-fridge with other tempting libations and snacks. The view from my large window of the Tokyo skyline provided a pleasant picture day or night.
Now for the bathroom; compact in size, it was something special. To the left was a rain bird shower with a small stool, a wooden bucket and a big scrub brush. To the right was a compact, cypress wood tub, something I had never seen before in all of the many hotel rooms I have stayed in during my 40 years of travel. It was explained to me that in Japan, you first scrub yourself down with warm water from the bucket. Next, you shower off and last, you soak in the cypress tub for complete relaxation. In Japan bathing is a ritual and that’s what I indulged in every night. Heavenly! In addition, plush bath towels and mats, cold pressed soap suitable for body and hair washing, wonderful bath lotions, shampoo and conditioner were replenished daily.
Before I move on to more of the review, I have to mention one additional amenity, something I just loved that I found to be standard in all of the 5 star hotels I stayed in in Japan. Pajamas!! As part of the nightly turn down service a pair of pajamas was set out on the bed. I couldn’t believe this. I hadn’t experience being supplied pajamas since the 1970’s but in Japan, “a guest’s comfort” is paramount.
Travel Tip: If you stay in 5 star hotels in Japan you don’t need to pack pajamas!
Scenic Garden Lounge Restaurant
Once I unpacked, I headed for the Garden Lounge Restaurant to grab a bite to eat before I explored the hotel to get my barrings as to where everything was located in this gigantic facility. The restaurant was in an expansive open area attractively decorated with large and small seating areas, more gorgeous flower arrangements and a stunning plexiglass piano that has a live pianist daily that starts playing in the late afternoon during tea time.
The most appealing feature of the restaurant was its wide view of the hotel’s Japanese Garden. I asked to be seated at a table with a garden view and was readily obliged. As many solo travelers have experienced, when dining solo often times you are seated at the worst table in the restaurant, not so at the Hotel New Otani!
Not being particularly hungry, I decided on a club sandwich and a glass of lemonade. I wasn’t quite ready for Japanese cuisine and chopsticks. As I expected, the sandwich was delicious and “hit the spot.” While enjoying my sandwich and marveling at the magnificent garden below, I couldn’t help but feel thrilled I had chosen this one-of-a-kind hotel.
More on the Hotel New Otani’s Amenities and Facilities
For fear of making this blog too long, I am going to try highlight the things that stood out to me the most about the many wonderful facilities and services provided at the hotel. As noted, this hotel is enormous, similar in size to the Vegas megalithic hotels. But dissimilar to the ones in Vegas, the Hotel New Otani retains a warm, welcoming feel throughout. Whether it’s a restaurant, a shop, the spa, etc., the spaces of these facilities are not overly large which makes you feel comfortable and relaxed everywhere in the hotel. Now for my highlights!
There is nothing like a “great” hotel bar where you as a solo traveler can nightly have a glass of wine or a cocktail and feel completely at ease in a sophisticated surrounding. The Bar Capri oozes sophistication. You are greeted and seated by waiters dressed in tux. Soft, live entertainment sets the tone enabling you to relax and linger here as long as you desire. A colorful oil mural depicting scenes from the Isle of Capri leads you to escape into a state of Shangrai La. I know I am getting a little much with my Bar Capri’s description but this lounge is as upscale as it gets.
As to be expected the libations are expensive. Small plates are available if you need a little something to eat. Bar treats are replenished periodically as you enjoy your drink. I loved the Bar Capri so much that I didn’t miss a night there winding down, writing in my journal recapping my day and planning for the next day’s activities.
Sky Bar and Restaurant
One of Tokyo’s most scenic rooftops is the Hotel New Otani’s Sky Bar and Restaurant because on a clear day you can see the majestic Mount Fuji and at night the bright lights of the city lends a dramatic backdrop for you dining or drinking experience. Even though I didn’t get to have a drink or a meal here, I wanted to point out this part of the hotel because of it’s beautiful setting. The Hotel New Otani’s rooftop has been popular with the locals and the hotel’s guest since its inception. Upon my next trip to Tokyo, I’ll definitely enjoy and hour or two here.
Sukiyaki Okahan Restaurant
My last dinner at the hotel was in the Okahan Restaurant, a traditional Japanese restaurant specializing in sukiyaki meals prepared at your table. Sukiyaki is one of Japan’s most famous types of cuisine where top quality beef and fresh, exotic vegetables are cooked in soy sauce and sugar by a kimono clad chef.
Travel Tip: Wear socks with all of your shoes in Japan. You never know when you will be asked to remove your shoes. The Japanese take off their shoes when in traditional settings, even in certain public bathrooms you have to remove your shoes. Don’t worry toilet slippers are provided.
Before you enter the restaurant, you have to remove your shoes. A beautiful Ikebana flower arrangement behind the welcome desk next to a rice paper window, sets the mood for the evening. The Okahan Restaurant’s rooms are in the horigotatsu style with tatami mats and low slung tables and chairs. This was the first time I had ever eaten at one of these types of tables and it really wasn’t that uncomfortable.
The meal began with a marinated fresh vegetable salad. Upon finishing the salad, I selected my beef choice. Next, the table chef began staging the meal components and the condiments she needed to prepare the dish on the gas burner at my table. The second course consisted of a raw egg dipping sauce and lightly sautéed mushrooms and leeks, Delicious! Pickled vegetables, a Japanese staple, and a bowl of sticky rice was served to redirect my palate. Last, the chef carefully prepared the main beef dish. Using my chopsticks, I attempted to artfully consume all of the ingredients of the dish with every bite. Slowly, I consumed the tasty food until I was completely stuffed.
The entire meal experience was so elegant and refined. From the way the chef would gracefully kneel when presenting each of the meal courses to me, to the precise cooking technique she used to prepare my dinner. The Japanese are such a focused culture. Their goal is to attain excellence in everything they do. This was so obvious with the chef’s every movement. Additionally, the quiet, simplicity of the room’s atmosphere lent itself to you totally focusing on what you were eating and the tastes you were experiencing. The evening was very Zen with mindful eating and enjoyment as the result. The perfect way to end my stay at the HNO.
Shopping Venues at the HNO
For a shopaholic like me, the hotel’s shopping venues were a total delight. After I ate that club sandwich on my arrival day, I window shopped the stores on the first floor of the hotel down the main corridor aptly named Rue de Rivoli. Here is a list of some of the standouts:
Kaizosha Salon- a high end Japanese souvenir shop
Pierre Hermé Paris- a world renowned patissier specializing in artfully created sweets and pasteries
Kaizosha Drugstore and Book Store- an interesting combination of an over-the-counter personal drug and care items store and hundreds of books in Japanese and other international languages.
Boutique Roy- a chic clothing and accessories shop filled with contemporary Japanese and Continental items, many of which are great for travel.
Antiques ETALAGE- a Japanese and international antiques emporium
New Otani Shop- the original branded hotel and souvenir shop filled with specialty foods and beverages
Godiva- the wonderful international chocolate store
Loire- a luxury Japanese clothing items and accessories shop at affordable prices. This was my favorite shop in the hotel. The elderly Japanese, storekeeper was so charming, a pure delight to do business with.
Other Specialty Stores on the First Floor:
Mayumi Kondo- an ultra high end shop filled with custom made, Japanese purses and accessories
Kimono and Textile Store- a shop specializing in custom and ready made kimonos, as well as, gorgeous Japanese fabrics and kimono accessories are available for fittings and purchase here.
Maison et Coco- specializing in affordable luxury women’s clothing and accessories. I also loved this shop.
In addition to the first floor shops there is an extensive Shopping Arcade in the basement of the hotel. There are too many shops in this area to name but you can find anything you want or desire here. Fine China, international antiques, shoes, more clothing boutiques, fine and costume jewelry and more can be found in the Shopping Arcade.
Bottomline: the shopping experience is “second to none” at the Hotel New Otani.
Miscellaneous Service Stores and Providers
The massive Hotel New Otani offers some unique service stores and personal professional venues as well. The hotel has a Post Office, doctors and dentist offices, a MUFG bank branch, a travel agency, a Business Support Center, a photo studio, a full-service laundry and even an ultra high end car dealership selling Rolls Royces. Most anything your heart desires can be purchased or be arranged to be purchased at this magnificent hotel. No other hotel in Tokyo can match its personal service options!
Health and Beauty Services
OMG is how I would described the many different types of beauty and health services offered at the Hotel New Otani. You can have anything you need or desire in this category when staying here. Spa services are always important to me because I tend to wear myself out when traveling. On every long trip I take, I end up in the hotel’s spa one or more times. Here’s the HNO’s list: I will begin with the Health Services.
New Otani Clinic and the Tohto Clinic- two full service medical clinics, great for if you need a prescription or if you become sick while in Tokyo.
Oyama Dental Clinic- God forbid if you crack a tooth or have some kind of dental issue but if you do, the hotel’s dental clinic can treat your problem.
Workout Facilities- the HNO has 2 workout rooms filled with the latest physical fitness equipment. Also, you can attend a free yoga class daily in the Rose Garden on the 3rd floor.
Salon de Esthe- a facial and body massage facility that specializes in Carita body treatments
Letemps Luxury- an oriental massage therapy studio focused on Oriental medicine treatments such as Taiwanese body and foot massages. I can highly recommend the foot massage. After the fifth day of walking over 4 miles each day all over Tokyo my feet were killing me. I walked in at 8:00pm and was given one of the best foot massages I had had anywhere in the world!
Fortuna Spa- a spa offering both Oriental and Western health and beauty services. Acupuncture, reflexology, healing stone therapy, body scrubs, aromatherapy, oodles of facial types and Shiatsu massage are examples of what this facility offers. I selected a full body and face acupunture treatment which was stellar. I think the facial acupuncture actually lifted my aging face slightly! I also experienced the Seitai-SHIMIZU Body Work treatment which is a full body adjustment technique that focuses on the feet. Oriental medicine espouses, “the proper balancing of the feet is key to natural health and beauty,” another wonderful, unique experience offered at the Hotel New Otani.
Hair Salon ONO- a full-service barber shop for men where they can even get a hot shave.
New Otani Beauty Salon- a full service hair, nail and makeup salon. The day before I checked out of the hotel I ran into the beauty salon and got a “blow and go,” which solved my hair washing problem! My stylist was so attentive. He noticed I had a place on my hand that was healing slowly. In re gave me a special Japanese cream that healed it up in two days. That’s Japanese compassionate service at its best.
Nail Salon Averre- a plush full-service nail salon for women and men
How do you like that list of health and beauty services available at an affordably priced, luxury hotel in Japan? I venture to say there is no other hotel in the country that offers this many services in this area. Phenomenal!!!
400 Year Old Japanese Garden
The Hotel New Otani’s “coup de grâce” is its 400 year old Japanese Garden. No description of this garden can do it justice but I will try and paint a picture of how exquisite it is. You have to travel there to really understand its beauty.
The garden’s history enhances its mystique. Originally, this garden was owned and created by the Samurai Lord, Kato Kiyomasa to compliment his residence there. Subsequently, in the Edo period it was sold to the powerful Li family and later in the Meiji period, it was owned by the Fushiminomiya family, a branch of the Imperial family of Japan.
After WWII, Yonetaro Otani acquired the property and made it his home. Fate stepped in when the Japanese government asked Mr. Otani to build the “finest hotel in the Orient” to accommodate the influx of visitors to the Tokyo Olympic Games. The hotel today is still owned by the Otani family. This long line of distinguished Japanese citizens who cherished their Japanese traditions lives on in the spirit of the HNO Japanese Garden.
The 10 acre paradise contains many aspects of a traditional Japanese garden. Some of these include:
Stone Garden- a classic stone garden with large stone boulders and raked pebbles symbolizing the mountains and water found in nature. The largest Akadama Stone weighing 22 tons sits in the middle of the garden.
Seisen Pond-a meandering pond filled with over 350 multi-colored koi fish. Many different species of birds such as exotic ducks, heron and warblers flock to this pond seasonally for refuge.
Taikobashi Bridge- a stunning scarlet bridge which is one of the focal points in the garden and the background for many photo taking opportunities.
Stone Lanterns- numerous, highly prized antique stone lanterns and pagodas are spread out in the garden. Some of the lanterns date back to the Japanese Edo and Kamakura periods.
Waterfalls- the dynamic 6 meter high main waterfall is another garden focal point. There are several other small waterfalls throughout the garden, all of which produce a soothing sound and quality for your time spent there.
Tea Ceremony House-3 days a week tea ceremonies are performed here for the hotel’s guests. Tea ceremonies are a fundamental part of Japanese life and culture. Guests are instructed in the “art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony” and partake in its haloed traditions. Relaxation, respect for others and a deep sense of gratitude for all aspects of life are nurtured during this time. A clearing and calming of ones spirit so it can harmonize with others is my take on the benefits of this blessed Japanese tradition.
Travel Tip: When in Japan do not leave without experiencing at least one classic tea ceremony, ideally in an old, traditional Japanese tea house. Stay at the HNO and you’ve got it on the hotel’s premises!
In addition, located in the Garden are 3 excellent restaurants
* Reservations are required well in advance.
NANADAMAN Sazanka-So- This restaurant is housed in Mr. Otani’s original sukiya styled residence. It specializes in Kaiseiki noon and dinner meals.
Momiji-Tei and Sekishin-Tei- Two restaurants that offer Teppanyaki cuisine.
Also, there are 7 restaurants in the hotel that have a view of the garden which you can enjoy while dining.
Day or night no matter what season you stay at the HNO, the hotel’s Japanese Garden will thrill and excite you. I likened it to an outdoor “spiritual sanctuary” where you can come to think, reflect, meditate or pray. Daily I spent sometime here “feeling quite blessed that I was in the Japanese Garden at that moment in my life.” Only special places conger up these kinds of thoughts and emotions.
Every great hotel has a great concierge desk and in Japan it is a vital service. Because English is not prevalent in the written or spoken word, the solo traveler needs a lot of help with knowing how to get around, what to do and not to do, where to go and not to go, the best day tours, how to use the trains and subways, reserving dinner and entertainment venues.
Japan is a difficult country for the traveler to maneuver in; a superb concierge desk is a solo traveler’s right hand assistant. He/she will save you lots of time and help you keep your head above water preventing you from getting lost because there tends to be very few street signs and specific addresses in Japan- it’s easy to get lost or turned around.
The Hotel New Otani’s concierge desk was the best. I consulted them daily about my itinerary and they showed me which subways to take and how to walk to each activity from each of the subway the stations on the map. My time in Tokyo would not have been as enriching and fun-filled without the HNO invaluable concierge services.
Travel Tip: In Japan when staying at a five star hotel you can have your luggage transferred to your next destination’s hotel. The HNO’s concierge arranged for this service so I wouldn’t have to lug my suitcases through the train station when catching the Shinkansen bullet train. This luggage transfer service was a life-saver throughout my 6 city trip through Japan.
I realize this is the longest blog I have ever written but if you have stayed with me and read the entire piece you will get a pretty clear picture of how outstanding and unique the Hotel New Otani in Tokyo is. It is so well conceived and well-maintained. The service rendered by all of the hotel personnel was warm and friendly with a Japanese “Old World” attention to detail and excellence. Smiling stewards and stewardesses are routinely floating around the hotel to ask if you need assistance.
As you can surmise from the factual content of this blog, the eat, see, do and shop options offered at the HNO are phenomenal, if not a bit overwhelming. This is the type of hotel you would return to over and over again in order to fully experience everything it offers. The HNO’s mystique never gets old!
As I checked out and waited for my taxi to to take me to the Tokyo train station to catch the Shinkansen bullet train to my next destination, I felt a tinge of sadness that I had to leave this Grand Dame of a hotel. On the other hand, I was so thankful that I had ultimately chosen to stay here. My time at the Hotel New Otani set the tone for my fantastic, solo trip to Japan. I had experienced Japanese hospitality at its best from day one, something I will never forget. I cherish the solo travel memories made at the Hotel New Otani. “Sayonara, Until we meet again!”
If this blog post has inspired you to book a reservation at the Hotel New Otani, The Main click here.
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Author: Astrid Clements
Astrid Solo Travel Advisor CEO and founder, Astrid, has spent over 40 years traveling around the world. She is passionate about embracing the world’s diverse cultures and sharing with others the global need and personal benefit of cultural literacy. Her focus is on affordable luxury travel that is both substantive and fun! To read more about her and each one of our Solo Travel Advisors, head over to the About page!
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