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THE BEST OF TOKYO

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THE WORLD

PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE CUNANAN.

CHRISTINE CUNANAN checks into the ultra-minimalist, ultra-luxurious Aman Tokyo

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he lobby of the Aman Tokyo is on the 33rd floor of the Otemachi Tower, a sleek new building in the financial district just a block away from Tokyo Station, and its street-level entrance is as unobtrusive as you can possibly imagine. Hidden from immediate view, there’s just one table for initial formalities when you alight from your car, and then you’re whisked away to their version of a modern paradise at the top.

“I was completely unprepared for the cavernous space of light, 30 meters high, that awaited me once the elevator doors opened. Talk about making first impressions count.”

GREAT EXPECTATIONS On my way up, I was of course anticipating a beautiful hotel typical of the Aman group; and perhaps more so in this case, as the bar to impress guests is certainly higher in Tokyo, the city with the most number of “Aman junkies” in the world.

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It’s also ground zero for design and technology pushed to the limit; so the pressure was definitely laid thick on Aman to come up with a Tokyo property – their first urban hotel and also their first property in Japan – that would dazzle in a most subtle way jaded guests who have already stayed in amazing hotels all over the world. If this is at all possible to do, that is. I was one of the earliest of these jaded guests and these were my lofty expectations.

VISION OF ELEGANCE Nevertheless I was completely unprepared for the cavernous space of light, 30 meters high, that awaited me once the elevator doors opened. Talk about making first impressions count.

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SPA TO REMEMBER The 2500-square meter Aman Tokyo spa offers treatments in eight private rooms along a corridor with views of Tokyo, just off the reception area. I booked the 150-minute Aman Tokyo Signature Journey, an original treatment that begins with a medicinal footbath and a body scrub of fine camphor powder and Japanese clay, and then culminates with a combination of a dry shiatsu and a traditional oil massage with rice oil. My therapist was a wisp of a young girl named Hikari, “light” in Japanese, further reinforcing my first impression of fragility. In reality, this was the farthest from the truth, for she gave me the most powerful massage I have had in a lifetime of spa visits, with her hands targeting all the right pressure points. Afterwards, I was led to a private relaxation space where I enjoyed a pot of medicinal tea infused with magnolia, green tea and cherry blossoms.

Quite unlike any other hotel lobby in Tokyo, this is literally the equivalent of eight floors of space and soft bright light that deliberately extends one’s vision all the way to the top. Then the designers covered the walls of about six of these floors in textured “washi” paper stretched on a wooden shoji frame to resemble a traditional Japanese paper lantern, giving the lobby an aura of unearthliness appropriate for a hotel so high up. Meanwhile, at eye level, between polished wood, rough grey stone, two Zen rock gardens and a mammoth arrangement of fragile ikebana-inspired greenery resting on a calm pool of water in the middle, I saw the breadth and width of the Tokyo skyline before me, making for a good combination of earth, sky, and, of course, luxury.

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THE PERFECT FIT Admittedly, this truly 21st century hotel is not for everyone, although minimalists and enthusiasts for Japanese design will appreciate its aesthetics at first glance. It is stark, crisp and so seamless like a simple but perfectly cut little black designer dress. At least, this is how I felt, checking in one recent Sunday to happily call Aman Tokyo my home for four days. I was already sufficiently enamored at the outset; but this hotel grows on you and ends up fitting your lifestyle. By the end of my stay, I most definitely would have stayed, had my credit card allowed this.

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“Aman Tokyo is stark, crisp and so seamless like a simple but perfectly cut little black designer dress.”


THE BEST OF TOKYO

DON’T MISS THESE DURING YOUR STAY:

- The Japanese bento box breakfast - Spending an afternoon by the swimming pool - A soak in the Japanese-style tub in your room - A look at the rare art books in the

Residents’ Library - The fully-equipped Pilates studio with private lessons

FEELING AT HOME The size of my suite – a grand 141-square meters of soundproof space – aided greatly in the task of making me feel at home, especially in claustrophobic Tokyo. It was all clean lines and a neutral palette, with a palatial foyer that neatly divided the room into a sleeping and bathing area on one side, and a living and dining area for four on the other. Both sides had banquettes with pillows and coffee table books running the length of the room to enable guests to sit and admire the views, if they had managed to ignore these so far.

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AWAY FROM EVERYTHING And within this rather generous piece of Tokyo, I even had my own little corner: a private office adjacent to the dining area with a sliding door of traditional design to shut off the rest of the world if I wanted to. Here, a large desk with a phone and all the technological infrastructure a traveler could want – think multi-socket plugs and USB chargers – awaits anyone who actually feels like working instead of enjoying one of the world’s most fabulous new hotels. The suite’s piece de resistance, however, is the massive granite bathtub, Japanese-style but Western in proportions, set up right next to a floor-to-ceiling window. With the Tokyo Skytree in the background, this was certainly the ultimate soak, whether day or night – or, in my case, both.

THE FOOD SCENE Aman Tokyo has private dining venues, a café, and one restaurant. The Restaurant by Aman, located on its lobby floor with views of the Imperial Palace Gardens and Mount Fuji in the distance, serves Japanese and European favorites. It offers wonderful breakfasts in a bright dining space that transforms into an elegant venue for dinner at sunset, with a variety of set menus that showcase some of the best ingredients in Japan.

This is really the stylish apartment most people wish they could have in one of the most exciting cities in the world – and now they can actually do so, even just for a few days, by checking into the Aman Tokyo. n

AMAN TOKYO www.aman.com

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The Palace BESIDE THE PALACE

PHOTOS BY XXXXXXX.

CHRISTINE CUNANAN gets the royal treatment at one of Tokyo’s best hotels

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I

could not have picked a better time for a stay at the Palace Hotel in Tokyo. It was almost spring and yet snow was still on the grounds of the Imperial Palace next door as I drove up and checked in, so when I finally reached my room on the 18th floor, a spectacular view greeted me from my private balcony, of a winter wonderland blanketing the vast grounds of the official residence of Japan’s emperors since 1888.

“My favorite place is still the Royal Bar, discretely situated behind a simple door off the lobby that you would easily pass without any notice if you are not in the know.”

Not all hotel views are created equal, and the views from the Palace Hotel from way up high, on what is perhaps Tokyo’s most exclusive piece of real estate, with its rare photo-op of the Imperial Palace and the city’s skyline in the distance, are truly special. These give you an inkling of the best of Tokyo, much of which you will happily discover right at the Palace Hotel itself.

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INSTANT REPLAY This was my second stay at the Palace Hotel since it reopened in May 2012. Just the fact that I’m a regular customer attests to its convenient location and to the comfortable overall experience it offers. Even in a city like Tokyo, which I already call home, I didn’t hesitate to pack my bags for a second staycation in a hotel with good restaurants and a welcoming atmosphere in the center of the city.

GOOD THINGS NEVER DIE The Palace Hotel is an institution in Tokyo that has always been known for its impeccable service and excellent food. Its lobby and coffee shop were once the meeting places for Japan’s movers and shakers. Several years ago, they tore down the original building and created an entirely new hotel reportedly at the breathtaking cost of US$1.2 billion.

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But after a full overhaul from ground up, the Palace Hotel reopened to general applause for its fresh and innovative concept. It kept its proud identity but also cleverly reinvented itself into a luxury establishment that is at once spacious and intimate, with French savoir faire, Japanese sensibilities and impeccable taste – and full of lovely details. In its new incarnation, however, its crisply designed modern rooms – averaging 45 square meters in floor area, making these among the largest in the city – are generating favorable reviews for their userfriendly layout, spacious bathrooms and modern furniture along traditional lines.

THE SMALL THINGS COUNT Apart from the private balconies, which are a true rarity in central Tokyo, the two points of interest for me in these hotel rooms are the lacquered white cabinets that open up into fully stocked mirrored bars in every room, at a time when so

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many hotels are already doing away with the mini bars; and the modern wooden stool in the spacious darkened foyer – so very Japanese – that allows guests to sit and take their shoes off at their leisure. On top of the stool is a stylish lamp that might be mistaken for the golden horns of an antelope, and I never failed to gaze at this with a tinge of marvel whenever I entered the room.

A TALE OF TWO CULTURES Meanwhile, in the lobby, a bountiful arrangement of greens and flowers greeted me on the day I arrived, making me think of Paris in the spring; and then, further on, in the foyer of the check-in area that resembles the tasteful living room of a grande maison in France, done in hues of greys and greens, I espied two exquisite Japanese porcelain dolls on a table adorned with the first sprigs of cherry blossoms. It is precisely this combination of East and West that makes the Palace Hotel such an attractive stay option in Tokyo. VOL.8 - ISSUE 2


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“On top of the stool is a stylish lamp that might be mistaken for the golden horns of an antelope. I never failed to gaze at this with a tinge of marvel whenever I entered the room.�


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THE OLD FAVORITES HAVE STAYED The Palace Hotel’s dining experiences are also special, with a good mix of old stalwarts and new. Foremost among the venues here is the Crown restaurant, which is a holdover from the original Palace Hotel and a much beloved go-to place for Tokyoites seeking good French food, many of whom have celebrated generations of milestones here, from the time when there were few good Westernstyle restaurants in Tokyo. Crown sports a sleek and contemporary look that calls to mind the fancy dining room of a luxury ocean liner with its polished silver and gleaming porcelain. It also enjoys a rating of one Michelin star (as of this writing) and offers a fresh menu of seasonal cooking revamped by its Japanese chefs with the help of Grand Chef Patrick Henriroux of the famed La Pyramide in Vienne, France.

WINDOWS TO THE WORLD An added bonus these days is the new location of the Crown, which allows for picture-perfect views through floorto-ceiling glass windows, of the main thoroughfare running through the Imperial Palace on one side and of one of the palace gates on the other. This is a view like no other. And from here, you can experience being a part of Tokyo and yet comfortably away from it, which is exactly how we felt when our party of eight booked one of the private dining rooms for dinner on a very cold and half snowy-half rainy evening. We enjoyed seeing the lights of the beautiful part of Tokyo from our stylishly set table, on the kind of night no one wants to be outdoors, while enjoying an excellent French meal. There are truly few places as perfect, even in this city full of good restaurants.

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But my favorite place in the Palace Hotel is still the Royal Bar, discretely situated behind a simple door off the lobby that you would easily pass without any notice if you are not in the know. It’s small and dark inside but ever so comfortably arranged with large old-fashioned leather chairs.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

TEMPURA HOT OFF THE FRYING PAN During my stay, I also discovered Tatsumi, the hotel’s intimate woodpaneled tempura restaurant, just off the Wadakura Restaurant, with a counter for only six persons around a cooking station presided over by two master chefs. Here we enjoyed the most delectable tempura of fresh seafood from Tsukiji Market, including shrimps and scallops, paired with six different kinds of salt.

The best seats here are at the bar counter, pried away from the original bar that opened in the old Palace Hotel in 1961 and then meticulously restored. This is the same bar behind which Kiyoshi Imai, the famous original bartender of the old Palace Hotel, known as “Mr. Martini” to insiders, once held court among loyal regulars, including some of the biggest businessmen of the day. Imai-san was well-known not only for mixing a mean martini but also for entertaining clients and making them feel that the Royal Bar was their home. He knew everyone’s secrets and maintained everyone’s trust – not an easy feat in a big city with a small-town atmosphere like Tokyo.

PASSING THE BATON OVER He has long retired from the Palace Hotel, but fortunately the generation that has taken over his rather large shoes has not failed to learn a thing or two from him about real service. On the night we were there after dinner, I with a flute of champagne and my companion with a glass of whisky and a cigar, we observed with a smile as the new bartender mixed a martini for a lady in the corner, several seats away from us, who looked like she nursing a heartbreak. And each time he brought her order and she shared a corresponding tale of woe, he gave her just the right mix of professional kindness and concern that I would expect from the Palace Hotel, along with what I’m sure were Tokyo’s most perfectly-made martinis. n

THE PALACE HOTEL www.en.palacehoteltokyo.com

ANA flies twice daily from Manila to Tokyo, servicing both Narita and Haneda airports. NH820 Manila - Narita 0945 - 1500 NH870 Manila - Haneda 1445 - 1955


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