A Sanctuary Tucked Inside a Tokyo High-Rise

At Hoshinoya, a traditional ryokan-style hotel in the Japanese capital, simplicity and calm reign supreme.



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LANDING IN TOKYO just after dark, I was whisked by taxi to Hoshinoya. Modeled on a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, Hoshinoya is located in a high-rise not far from Tokyo Station, the commercial center of the city. On a Saturday night, the area felt like a ghost town, only the wind stirring the still-young trees planted in the office plaza. Like many high-rises in the Japanese capital, this one is accessed through a subterranean garage. Having visited only a limited number of buildings during my stays in the city, I nevertheless feel confident in saying that the experience one has from there is markedly different.

I have seen plenty of pictures of ryokan over the years, and I must confess something here: I didn’t really get it. They looked tidy and empty, which appealed to me. But seeing them only in photos, I couldn’t really understand because the experience of visiting a space like this is really a sensory one.



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Upon arriving, I was greeted by a kimono-clad staff member who led me to an elevator, bowing deeply as the doors closed. From there, I entered the lobby, a cavernous room with an installation of towering cherry-blossom branches, set at the far end. I was invited to remove my shoes, which were placed in one of the bamboo lockers, stacked floor to ceiling and running the length of the room. The floor in the lobby is lined with tatami mats, as is every floor in the hotel. Scooting in my bare feet to the elevator, I had the enjoyable and slightly discordant feeling of entering a private space. I was brought up to the hotel lobby; like the entry lobby, empty. From there, shown to my room.

My room was a long, rectangular space, with low sitting areas and a futon placed on a platform. A kimono was laid out for me. The walls were lined with sliding paper shoji screens set in wooden cases; when opened, they revealed the metal latticework of the building and, through that, the city outside. The traditional motif continued through the bathroom, which was black stone, with a wooden stool and bucket inside the shower. Everything was voluptuously quiet.

I had no idea how much I would love the quiet. In a world that is endlessly loud, the emptiness and simplicity of the space resonated profoundly for me. It felt like taking a very deep, calming breath.

There is much to recommend Hoshinoya. The food is, of course, local and hyper-seasonal, the menus crafted daily based on the ingredients the chef has been able to procure. I ate Japanese breakfast served in my room, a feast of salty and pickled delights, which was deceptively filling. I also ate dinner in one of the private dining rooms downstairs, where the menu, as in a traditional ryokan, is built around fish, one tiny jewel of a course following the other. The hotel’s roof boasts a traditional onsen, fed by saline hot springs. I visited at night, and lay in the steaming water at the bottom of an outdoor ballast chamber, staring at the clouds passing by in the sky above. The property also offers traditional cultural activities, including tea ceremonies and early-morning kenjutsu practice, or sword training, which take place on the helipad of a neighboring building, a roof overlooking all of Tokyo.

But the quiet is what I recommend most of all. Between the quiet and the simplicity, I was encouraged to slow down. And in slowing down, I was able to pay attention, to really pay attention. I experienced all the small details, from the plushness of the futon, to the comforting feeling of the tatami mats underfoot, to the softness of the sheets on my skin, to the way the light changed in my room as the day slowly turned back again into night.

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Skye Parrott

Skye Parrott is the editor-in-chief of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor-in-chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.


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