In the months leading up to our October trip to Japan, my wife and I looked forward to many things: the food, of course; the buzz and speed of Tokyo; the startling contrasts in culture, architecture, everything; the risk-free, happy alienation of being in a very different world but one in which everyone wishes you well. Right near the top of the list of things we were excited about was our return to the Park Hyatt Tokyo, where we'd stayed five years earlier. That, I think, says a lot about the hotel's allure.
Yet we'd visited a few other great hotels since then, and Tokyo itself has seen the opening of several new ones in the same luxurious class, so our eagerness was tinged with uncertainty: How would the 18-year-old Park Hyatt hold up?
Magically well, as we saw the moment we arrived. Our flight to Haneda airport had landed at the absurd hour of 4:45 a.m. (who says airlines don't have a sense of humor?), and after a bus ride in light traffic we were on the doorstep by 6:30. The doorstep here is a quiet "pre-lobby" 40 stories below the hotel, which occupies the top 14 floors of a striking office tower in west Shinjuku, far enough away from the hullaballoo of the vast train station to seem quite peaceful.
Once we'd ascended to the 41st floor, we progressed through a succession of ever warmer, increasingly private areas: From the airy glass-ceilinged and very public Peak Lounge, we turned into a wood-paneled corridor leading past the soaring space of Girandole restaurant (where breakfast and Western meals are served) and overlooking the hotel's Japanese restaurant, Kozue. Another turn, and we were in the more intimate library, full of books in many languages -- lots of them volumes on the arts. And finally, another turn took us to the "real" lobby, where the concierge desks, cashier and so forth are located. Only hotel guests will get this far, and the room is a small one, as you'd expect in a boutique hotel, not in this palace (as the French would call it) with more than 170 rooms.
Given the early arrival, we were lucky: our room was ready. Not only that: it already contained a breakfast of fruit juice, pastries and muesli. That typifies the Park Hyatt's service and attention to detail: things happen, even if you wouldn't have thought to ask for them. Just one other example: The concierge had made a reservation for us at a restaurant where no English was likely to be spoken; not unusually for Japan, she printed out a local street map to help us find the little place, but she also located a copy of the menu and went through it with us item by item. We would have had fun anyway, but those extra few minutes of attention eased the way to a perfect evening.
After that first morning we breakfasted daily in Girandole, where the walls of the booths and alcoves are decorated with book plates (ex libris) by 20th-century artists, every one worth scrutinizing; to do so, we tried to sit at a different table each day -- and when we stopped by for an afternoon beer, too. We are coffee and baked goods people in the morning; bread and French-style breakfast pastries were uniformly excellent, notably little spherical brioches scented with confit orange peel and sprinkled with chopped pistachios. Fuller Western and Japanese breakfasts are available, of course, both at the buffet and on the menu. Service was prescient and friendly, once again.
We dined in the hotel, too, at Kozue, as we had done on our previous visit. Seating is Western-style, and there are yards of space between tables. We sat window-side and enjoyed the glittering view from the 40th floor; other tables are on a higher tier and still have a good view, both of the cityscape and of the big painting, evoking calligraphy, that is one of the few decorations in this spare, elegant (but quite large) dining room. Food is served on the most beautiful unmatched crockery -- a friend of ours has seen and marveled at the chef's stocks of dishes, which are housed in a room of their own.
In 2007, we'd ordered one of the kaiseki-type set menus -- at dinner time, these range in price from ¥13,000 to ¥22,000 ($155 to $265; lunch can be quite a bit less). This time, though, we were still a bit jet-lagged and felt like eating sparingly, so we chose a succession of small dishes, mostly appetizers, many of them focusing on favorite seasonal ingredients, notably matsutake mushrooms. With sake for me, we spent barely more than ¥14,000 for our light meal.
The food was consistently graceful and beautiful, and showed a creative flair that kept it interesting. I still think of the matsutakes with sea urchin and meaty surf shell clams; cubes of sesame tofu topped with two kinds of fish roe and a dot of wasabi and seasoned with sesame soy sauce emulsion; and a dish of excellent ripe figs served with steamed crab and fried ginko nuts and brightened with yuzu. And I was brought an autumnal birthday dessert: pastry puffs filled with chestnut ice cream, topped with pine-flavored vermicelli and sauced with light custard. The menu changes all the time and always reflects the seasons. Kozue's peaceful environment and the fact that the staff speak pretty good English make this an excellent option for travelers.
The health club and spa are luxurious and, like everything else here, spacious. Cocktails at the New York Bar are worth the elevator ride up to the 52nd floor; my Manhattan was perfectly balanced and not in the least sweet.
The Park Hyatt's décor -- in public areas and guest rooms alike -- has not dated, perhaps because the designer, Hong Kong-based John Morford, used no gimmicks and nothing that would have been achingly trendy in 1994, when the hotel opened, and that hence would look achingly old now. And everything from wood paneling to plumbing has been impeccably maintained. The guest rooms are thoughtfully designed, too: The light switches are not too hard to figure out; there's plenty of storage space in the dressing room adjacent to the big bathroom; and there's a source of boiling water for tea and pour-over coffee.
If all of this sounds like a love-letter, well I guess I'm in love. We're already counting our frequent-flier miles and my wife is brushing up her Japanese with a view to another visit.
* * *
Park Hyatt Tokyo, 3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo 163-1055; +81 3 5322 1234; firstname.lastname@example.org; tokyo.park.hyatt.com. Depending on season and availability, rooms can start at ¥39,000 (around $470) plus tax and service.