Japan is a country of extremes. Here, madhouse metropolises like Tokyo exist just an hour away from the hushed zen of ancient temples. Design geniuses like Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto share a sartorial landscape with octogenarian kimono fabric craftsmen.

The same can be said of its hotels. When it comes to accommodations in Tokyo, one would be hard pressed to find a property where the needs of the business traveller co-exist with cultural experiences.

A 1971 photo of Keio Plaza Hotel.
A view of the hotel today at night.

That’s where Keio Plaza Hotel — Tokyo’s first skyscraper hotel makes the difference. Assume this is yet another grey soulless hotel from the outside and you would be mistaken; for hidden in its corridors is a teahouse, ryokan-style rooms and even a kaiseki restaurant.

We start with its physical location. The hotel is a short hop and a skip away from Shinjuku Station — the world’s busiest subway station that sees 3.5 million commuters making their way through its labyrinthine walkways. There are over 200 exits here and a total of 51 platforms if one were to count the adjacent areas that can be accessed without surfacing to the ground level.

While this means the hotel is easily accessible from most parts of Tokyo, commuting takes some getting used to, and we highly recommend navigating the hallways your first few days to familiarise yourself with the area’s geography.

The grand entrance to the hotel. (Photo credit: Keio Plaza Hotel)

If you’re looking for a quick bite, you’d be spoiled for choice. There are plenty of sushi, ramen and even an Indian eatery just across the road. For late night bites, we’d recommend the ramen street stall that opens late, patronised by both locals and visitors. It’s a chicken-based ramen broth that’s light enough should the midnight hunger pangs strike.

There are over 1,400 rooms at Keio Plaza Hotel. While this is certainly massive, the newly renovated Premier Grand rooms will offer you an exclusive experience. This is the equivalent to the club room in other hotels so expect breakfast as well as the check in and check out processes to be up at the 45th floor where the lounge is. Light snacks and beverages are on hand throughout the day and guests can book the meeting room for use as long as it’s well in advance.

The Premier Grand rooms. (Photo credit: Keio Plaza Hotel)

At around 35 square metres, the room itself is large by Tokyo’s standards. There’s a humidifier if it gets too dry to your liking and a quaint Japanese teapot is perched at the corner if you have some downtime and would like to pause and savour some tea.

While the room is indeed plush, it is the tatami rooms down at the 10th floor that have us captivated. The design is kept as traditional as possible — from the bamboo accents to the square wooden tub, to the fact that guests will sleep on futons. Think of this as the budget option and you would be mistaken for these are suites that come with an entrance and a dining area where you’ll sit on the floor with a low table to enjoy a meal.

The tatami rooms replicate a traditional ryokan. (Photo credit: Keio Plaza Hotel)

There’s certainly no lack of food options here as the hotel has 15 restaurants catering to a range of cuisines — perfect if you’re on a busy schedule where leaving the hotel isn’t always an option.

Check out Gokoku-Tei for a refined Korean barbecue experience or take things up a notch and go for gold at Yamanami — a teppanyaki restaurant where Kobe beef is available in its menu.

But time-strapped or not, be sure to make a date at Soujuan, the property’s kaiseki gem. This is highest expression of Japan’s culinary offerings and a gastronomic genre that inspired everything from the advent of Nouvelle Cuisine to New Nordic.

Don’t miss a meal at Soujuan, the hotel’s kaiseki restaurant. (Photo credit: Keio Plaza Hotel)

At Soujuan, the food is executed with polish and finesse, in a space neatly divided into private rooms replete with indoor stone gardens. Choose from western-style dining and tables and chairs or traditional Japanese rooms where the table height is meant for sitting on the tatami mats.

The private nature of each room makes it ideal if you’re dining with Tokyo-based colleagues or clients.

Yet not all meals are about indulgence, and Keio Plaza Hotel knows that. Business travellers who need to catch an early morning flight to be back in the office by the afternoon, can head to Jurin — the all-day dining restaurant which starts serving breakfast at 5am.

Breakfast with a view at the Club Lounge. (Photo credit: Keio Plaza Hotel)

As a guest of the Premier Grand rooms though, skip the crowds and dine at the club lounge. Being 160 metres up high, it offers stunning views of Shinjuku and decent breakfast selection with a live eggs station. For all intents and purposes, we’d highly recommend the Japanese breakfast — a balanced meal of teriyaki salmon, a bowl of rice, pickles and miso soup.

While the rooms and dining options are certainly excellent, it’s the amenities that truly stand out. We’re not talking about the standard features of a hotel like the gym (in fact, that happens to be the weakest as it really is just a small room) but experiences like the Japanese art of floral arrangement known as ikebana and an authentic tea ceremony lesson held in a space meant to mimic a traditional tea house.

Here, a tea master will take you through the steps of the age-old tradition from the correct ritualistic way to wash your hands — the same way as you would when visiting temples — to which side the bowl has to face, right down to the etiquette of entering and leaving the space.

A tea master is on hand to guide you through the tea ceremony. (Photo credit: Keio Plaza Hotel)

Other amenities we used and loved is the 24-hour convenience store which came in handy when you’re back late after a round of drinks, as well as the currency exchange machine. The latter didn’t have the best rates for out of towners but Tokyo, for all its technical advances isn’t as credit card friendly as we’d like and the machine thankfully accepts the Singapore dollar.

Keio Plaza Hotel’s convenient location, amenities and choice of restaurants make it the ideal option for those who are time-strapped, especially for the glimpses it affords for cultural experiences. These are a godsend for those who don’t have the luxury of heading out to other parts of Japan to experience the richness of its traditions. It might have the veneer of a giant hotel but rest assured, the experience is as intimate as it comes.

Azimin Saini
Azimin Saini is the Editor of Lifestyle Asia and manages the team in Singapore. He has been told the sound of his backspace is like thunder through the clouds. On a regular day, he has enough caffeine in him to power a small car.