Tokyo is an expert at integrating great bursts of nature into its urban landscape. Walk a stone’s throw from Harajuku’s people-packed Takeshita Dori to lose yourself in the leafy trails around Meiji Jingu shrine, or slip away from the heady neon of Kabukicho to discover bamboo ensconced boardwalks alongside the Golden Gai. But for a truly sumptuous escape, visit the Hotel New Otani: a full-scale resort conveniently located in the heart of Tokyo.
With Tokyo real estate is at a premium, just how did the hotel snag such a prized patch of green? Retired sumo wrestler, Yonetaro Otani, a prominent industrialist known as the ‘King of Steel’ and the hotel’s namesake, purchased the plot for a song during Tokyo’s post-WWII redevelopment. As the city prepared to host the 1964 Olympic Games, Otani was commissioned by the Japanese government to build a hotel that could help house the incoming crowds, and the ambitious developer took the task to heart. Otani’s plan was to preserve the natural landscape and Edo-era features while constructing a world-class hotel from which each of its 1000+ guests could view Mount Fuji. It was lofty idea, but with good reason: located only 3 kilometres southwest of the Imperial Palace, Otani needed to meet a high standard to stick out in the neighbourhood. When the hotel opened in September of 1964 (one month before the Olympic Games), it was the tallest building in Tokyo with almost 1,000 guest rooms towering over its 400-year-old gardens.
Today, the Hotel New Otani's 1,479 guests rooms welcome as many as 2,768 people at a time. Accommodations are split across three main structures: the original building (now called “The Main”), the Garden Tower (a whopping 40 storeys), and the Garden Court (30 storeys). Both Western and Japanese rooms are available, ranging in size from standard singles to sterling luxury suites with towering price tags (the Main Presidential Suite will set you back 300,000 yen per night). The complex is also home to 33 banquet rooms, 38 restaurants and bars, and a diverse set of services from dentistry to shoe shines.
Fortunately, not everything at the hotel comes with a price tag. 10 acres of gardens, once the property of feudal samurai, are open to the public free of charge. They’re truly magnificent and a great way to while away an afternoon without taking the train to the countryside. The Japan you’ve seen in woodblock prints lives on in Otani’s carefully manicured gardens, stone lanterns, and crimson red bridges. Seisen Pond boasts over 300 koi, and the landscape is a natural refuge for birds like the oft-painted grey heron. Akadama Stones flown in from Niigata Prefecture look like mini-mountains sprouting from fields of stone, the largest of which is a majestic 22 tons. There’s even a reconstruction of the original home that Yonetaro Otani himself lived in before the hotel’s construction.
The Hotel New Otani comes with all the amenities you might expect from luxury lodgings, including a full-scale fitness club complete with an indoor pool, sauna, tennis courts, driving range, and spa. After your workout, cool down in their outdoor pool or rent a cabana for a lush afternoon. Naturally, poolside service offers dining and cocktails to those who can’t muster the strength to crawl from their lawn chair and feed themselves. After 6 p.m., the pool transforms into an evening paradise with palm trees bathed in electric light and DJs mixing live music. Short-stay passes are available to those who aren’t staying at the hotel, making it a nice summer substitute for the beach.
The hotel’s also famous for Trader Vic’s, a Polynesian-themed restaurant created by the Californian inventor of the Mai Tai. Carved wood and Tiki torches set the stage for a selection of over 100 tropical cocktails and a menu of in-house smoked meats and fish. IHOP it ain’t–entrees start around 4000 yen and top out at a rich Chateaubriand platter for two at a tasty 15,000. If you want to wind up under the table, pair it with the four-person Rum Keg. It’s always 5 o’clock in Tahiti, isn’t it?
Whether on vacation or simply as a lush way to spend an afternoon, Hotel New Otani has plenty to offer anyone looking for a quick escape within the city. Despite towering 40 floors high, it’s still one of the city’s best-kept secrets.