In December 2019, I checked into the Heritage Corner King with Balcony at the Heritage Wing of The Okura Tokyo – the hotel formerly known as the Hotel Okura Tokyo – which reopened in September 2019 after three years of renovation. Situated close to the United States Embassy in the business-centric Akasaka area, the 508-room property has hosted movie stars, British royalty, every President of the United States since Richard Nixon’s era as well as various luminaries and foreign heads of state since it first opened in 1962.
The hotel is a short walk away from Kokkai-gijidomae Station (Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line), Kamiyacho Station (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line), Toranomon Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line), Tameikesannou Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line/Nanboku Line) and Roppongi 1-chome Station (Tokyo Metro Nanboku Line), as well as 30 minutes from Haneda Airport and 70 minutes from Narita Airport.
The property is referenced frequently in pop culture, from being James Bond’s accommodation of choice in Ian Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice to its feature in the opening scene of the 1966 movie Walk, Don’t Run (where the character played by Cary Grant fails to get a room at the fully-booked Hotel Okura Tokyo during the 1964 Summer Olympics).
The UTW (“Under Ten Words”): Rejuvenated heritage luxury icon in Tokyo reopens.
The must-dos (if any): Enjoy the in-room steam sauna and jet bath at the Heritage Wing, admire the beauty of the premises, take a stroll in the private garden, have a drink at Starlight and/or Orchid Bar.
THE OKURA TOKYO
Designed by industry luminary Yoshiro Taniguchi (behind Tokyo’s National Museum of Modern Art as well as the Togu Palace), the property was indisputably the most luxurious hotel in Tokyo when it first launched in 1962 just ahead of the Tokyo 1964 Summer Olympics. After a controversial demolition in 2015 as part of an extensive modernisation project led by the original architect’s son Yoshio Taniguchi (this time, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics), the newly-branded The Okura Tokyo – now in the form of two adjacent glass skyscrapers, the 17-storey Heritage Tower and the 41-storey Prestige Tower – was unveiled in September 2019 to much international anticipation.
Most of the property’s rooms, facilities and dining concepts are situated within the Prestige Wing, the hotel’s bustling main building which offers 368 rooms with high-floor views and a modern Japanese aesthetic. Past the stream of taxis and the row of automatic and revolving doors along the lengthy driveway, you can find the original Hotel Okura’s iconic and very visually arresting main lobby, a sprawling lounge area with hexagonal ceiling lanterns, a hemp leaf kumiko lattice design on sheets of hinoki wood on the walls as well as the distinctive plum blossom-inspired clustered arrangement of the lounge’s lacquered tables and chairs.
The Prestige Wing houses the hotel’s 37th floor Club Lounge – accessible by all Heritage Wing and club floor Prestige Wing guests – as well as the Okura Fitness & Spa which spans across levels 26 and 27. Wellness facilities include the gym, the indoor pool with jacuzzi and locker room onsen/sauna facilities as well as the ANNAYAKE spa which offers luxurious treatments using products from French beauty brand ANNAYAKE. Interestingly, the indoor pool is intended as a proper swimming pool complete with lane ropes, with only one quarter of the pool designated for frivolous aquatic frolic. Lifeguards on duty enforce the various in-house rules which ranged from the compulsory wearing of a swimming cap and goggles in the pool (no spectacles are allowed) for lap swimmers to water-walking only being permitted if done in a specific direction and circuit.
In contrast, the 140-room Heritage Wing plays things more low-key with a discreet arrival experience. Eschewing the grand scale of the Prestige Wing’s lobby, the single-entrance and sparsely-furnished reception of the (curiously warm) Heritage Wing is decidedly simple and understated in its decor, with the most striking design feature being the Wisteria’s Shadow light installation by Lina Ghotmeh at the far end of the lobby – 2400 purple crystals dramatically cascade downwards from the lobby ceiling past the grand staircase into the lower level where Japanese restaurant Yamazato as well as the hotel’s Shopping Arcade are situated. The enclosed lift lobby leading to the guest rooms requires key card access, giving guests a heightened sense of privacy and security (which is fitting, given the Heritage Wing is the default choice for VIPs staying at the property). The rooms at the Heritage Wing employ a more classically Japanese interior design and offer views overlooking the hotel’s lush private garden.
Timing is everything if you wish to enjoy the full extent of what the hotel has to offer. For instance, guests enjoy free entry to the hotel’s private Okura Museum of Art if there is an on-going exhibition, but unfortunately the museum was not in operation when I was there. Also, if you happen to be on the premises during the 25th day of any particular month, you can enjoy the free monthly lobby concert which takes place in the Prestige Wing lobby.
HERITAGE CORNER ROOM WITH BALCONY
Boasting a balcony which overlooks the hotel’s verdant private gardens, the 53sqm Heritage Corner King with Balcony combines classically woody Japanese sensibilities with modern technological touches. The main area comprises a king-sized bed with a bed-side iPad to control the blinds and lights, a sofa area as well as a work-station equipped with a leather workpad, with various electrical and USB points located throughout the room for your power needs. Wide windows allow glorious streams of natural light into the room, while the outdoor balcony – a rarity in Tokyo – provide opportunities for guests to relax outside and fully take in the view of the hotel’s beautiful gardens. Doors on both ends of the main area connect you to the pantry/walk-in wardrobe and the bathroom respectively in a fully closed loop.
The modest pantry comprises a fridge stocked with canned drinks, bottled water, Japanese beers and fresh fruit juices (all complimentary) as well as Nespresso coffee and Dilmah/Ureshino Tamaryokucha tea-making facilities. Elsewhere, the bathroom features a heated bathroom floor, double vanities, a steam sauna (!!) as well as a deep, window-side jet bath which overlooks the hotel gardens. The luxurious bathroom amenities are courtesy of organic spa brand Bamford and Japanese beauty brand THREE. (I understand Prestige Wing guests enjoy amenities from British perfumer Miller Harris.) I must say that the combination of the private sauna and the powerful jet bath, when used in conjunction with the THREE ume and citrus-scented bath salt, made for one of the most enjoyable bath experiences I have ever had.
Guests at the Heritage Wing enjoy a special seasonally-inspired welcome – mine consisted of a complimentary dacquoise from Chef’s Garden and a shiso drink served to me in my room – as well as Pierre Marcolini chocolates left on your bedside table during turndown service.
Along with a welcome platter of fresh fruits, I was given a printed birthday card from the General Manager as my stay coincided with my actual birthday.
The hotel’s dining concepts are spread across both wings. The Prestige Tower hosts all-day dining restaurant and adjacent cocktail bar Orchid as well as delicatessen Chef’s Garden on the 5th floor, Chinese restaurant Toh-Ka-Lin on the 6th floor, as well as bar and lounge Starlight and teppanyaki restaurant Sazanka on the apex 41st floor, while the Heritage Tower houses Japanese concept Yamazato on the 4th floor as well as French restaurant Nouvelle Epoque and members-only club Baron’s Bar (all Heritage Wing guests have complimentary access) on the 5th floor.
In terms of breakfast, Heritage Wing guests have five choices – they can choose to have a Western-style breakfast at contemporary French restaurant Nouvelle Epoque or a Japanese-style breakfast at the Japanese restaurant Yamazato at the Heritage Tower; a continental buffet breakfast at all-day dining concept Orchid or a select range of breakfast dishes at the Club Lounge at the Prestige Tower; or opt for in-room dining with various fixed menus available. I opted for the breakfast experience at Yamazato and enjoyed a variety of Japanese breakfast staples such as Grilled Fish and Congee with Medicinal Herbs in a zen, garden-side setting.
During my stay, I had dinner at Chinese restaurant Toh-Ka-Lin and enjoyed casual Chinese fare which included the fattily chewy Chinese Roast Pork “Cha Siu”, the comforting Crabmeat Omelette with Rice as well as the scene-stealing Spicy Sesame Noodle Soup (aka Chinese Dan-Dan Noodles) which managed to flaunt a ramen broth-robust profile whilst maintaining its customary peanut-tinged charms. After observing Japanese birthday guests being serenaded by the Toh-Ka-Lin team with a birthday song (in English) and served a complimentary dessert from the dessert menu, I remembered that members of One Harmony (the membership programme for Okura Hotels & Resorts, Nikko Hotels International and Hotel JAL City hotels) enjoy a complimentary birthday cake or dessert if they dine at certain restaurants on their birthday and had made their reservation at least two days in advance.
Although my decision to dine at Toh-Ka-Lin was spontaneous, I decided to try my luck anyway. I flashed my One Harmony card to the manager and enquired about the birthday benefit. I was eventually given a plate of Prosperity Buns with a Chinese birthday message written in chocolate, accompanied by a sheepish, awkward birthday greeting from one of the young, friendly servers.
After dinner, I retreated to Starlight for a nightcap, and was seated by the same friendly bar manager whom I first met earlier in the day during my site inspection and remembered me from before. The dimly-lit and comfortably soundtracked high-floor space boasted laid-back chill-out vibes as well as panoramic views of the red light-blinky Tokyo skyline (not unlike that of TwentyEight at Conrad Tokyo). After perusing the drink menus at all the bars in the premises, I realised that that the spirit and wine offerings were largely identical across the various bars save for some venue-specific exclusives. I had the masculine, spirit-forward Starlight Old Fashioned as well as a delicious and very easy-drinking glass of The Okura Yamanashi Muscat Bailey A.
Located on the 37th floor of the Prestige Tower, the Club Lounge (accessible only to Heritage Tower guests as well as those who booked club rooms in the Prestige Tower) offers four food presentations throughout the day, and I managed to catch the Afternoon Meal, Night Hors D’oeuvre and Night Cap presentations during my stay. The Night Hors D’oeuvre is the key presentation not to be missed, comprising two types of hot canapes served in individual mini-pots (Ravioli and Beef were served during my visit), a variety of cold canapes (I had Smoked Duck and a most luscious Vegetable and Seafood Terrine), fresh fruits, cold cuts and a range of pastries such as scones, croissants and danishes. In terms of drinks, Pommery champagne was on offer along with white and red wine options as well as a range of spirits such as Grey Goose Vodka, Bombay Sapphire Gin and the impressively smooth Hibiki Blender’s Choice.
Elsewhere, the Afternoon Meal session consisted of cold cuts, fruits and pastries (all of which made a return appearance during the Night Hors D’oeuvre session), while the Night Cap presentation basically comprises the Night Hors D’oeuvre alcohol options with a variety of nuts and chocolates (including the Pierre Marcolini chocolates which are served during turn-down for Heritage Wing rooms).
For an ultra-luxury property, the service experience was surprising. I was neither greeted nor asked for my room number when I first entered the lounge, while noting that some of the other Japanese guests had very friendly and engaged interactions with the lounge staff during their lounge visit. In addition, whilst the food presentations in general were serviceable in terms of food quality, I observed that the amount of hors d’oeuvres brought out of the kitchen each time was always so curiously paltry that the (popular items from the) tray would be wiped out in a matter of seconds, leaving those not near the buffet table during the replenishment high and dry until the next cycle.
By the end of my visit, I observed that the typical staying guest at the hotel was Japanese with an average age of fifty-five (which made for interesting social situations in the pool-side jacuzzi and locker room onsen). The fact that I lack both attributes may go a certain way to explain the perceptible difference between the hotel’s treatment of myself and the above-mentioned average guest – for instance, in the lack of occasion accorded to the celebratory nature of the stay (especially during a period of relatively modest occupancy) as well as the service offered at the Club Lounge – and I suspect the reason for the difference may go beyond linguistic friction.
I must say that the hotel’s dual-wing dichotomy, with one wing being the popular choice for heads of state and other important folk, reminded me of Shangri-La Singapore, while their brisk, business-like approach to hospitality – delivering the hardware product to the written tee, but not more – made me think of my recent stay at the (also historically significant, newly-renovated and reopened) Raffles Hotel Singapore.
Whilst I enjoyed my room tremendously, in particular the private sauna and jet bath facilities, I must say that the general Okura Tokyo experience felt decidedly business-like and commercial in its hospitality offering. For foreign visitors, it is likely going to be one for the bucket list, and nothing more.
The Okura Tokyo
2-10-4 Toranomon Minato-ku Tokyo