It is a big call for any architectural firm to design an urban retreat in the middle of a metropolis such as Tokyo but Kerry Hill is no ordinary architect and Aman Tokyo is no ordinary customer.
Creating a haven of tranquillity in the middle of Tokyo’s business district seems like an impossible task given the lack of ‘nature’ and big open spaces with attractive vistas.
To place this Tokyo hotel on top of a high tower adds to the tall-order call.
Where is Aman Tokyo?
A four-minute walk from Tokyo Central Station takes me to the business district of Otemachi where Aman Tokyo is located.
As I look up at the vertical glass expanse in front of me, I wonder: what can a purpose-built business tower deliver in the way of relaxation?
Then before I know it I am on the 33rd floor and I walk into an expanse of diffused light so huge I gasp. Entering the lobby of Aman Tokyo is like being inside a giant paper lantern. 30m tall, to be precise.
What’s the design like at Aman Tokyo?
Paper, wood, stone. Playing games? No. These are the basic Japanese elements of design and architecture and Aman Tokyo is a micro cosmos reflecting them.
The concept of engawa – that subtle line defining the space where the outdoors meets the indoors – is here everywhere.
There are several spaces ethereally demarcated on the reception floor: a stone garden; a giant ikebana arrangement over a reflective black stone pool; the washi paper-lined shoji (light wood screens) letting light filter through; the barely there partitions defining the restaurant area, the bar, the library and the actual engawa a blonde wood pathway suggesting where nature and man-made structures meet.
All these areas have subtly air brushed boundaries. Waxing lyrical? Maybe. But you try it for yourself. Look for detail and you shall find treasure in this Tokyo hotel.
Tell us more about the art
There are art pieces everywhere, old and new. At first sight, what I take to be a roughly finished wall behind the reception desk delivers a surprise on closer look.
Plasterer artist Syuhei Hasado from Takayama has embedded wild vines from the mountains of Hida. The blue little fruit on the vines are real and have been dried and pressed into the artwork (a quite challenging procedure).
It is unassuming; humble; discreet. And it packs a punch of delight when examined closer. There is another delight by the same artist on the 34th-foor.
Artist Hidaka Rieko adds to the Cigar Room a touch of Nature with her Distance from the Sky an exquisite depiction of tree branches in relationship to the sky.
Are the rooms at Aman Tokyo really luxurious?
Rooms at the Aman Tokyo are all local woods, black basalt stone and glass. They are huge, soothing and relaxing with a built-in day bed alongside the all glass wall.
The concept of engawa is again reflected in the design of the rooms subtly dived into a sleeping area and a living area by introducing different levels.
Nothing as offensive as a TV screen breaks the harmony of the rooms in this Tokyo hotel (a wide-screen TV is cleverly concealed inside a low room divider and can be raised or lowered with a remote control).
The bathrooms have heated stone floors with a stone tub set against the floor to ceiling window, which has a privacy shade, not really needed as nobody can see you, only Mt Fuji can.
Bath salts smelling of cedar forests and yuzu (citrus) fruits for infusing the bath are little extras that please.
What about the spa?
As I soak in the Spa’s hot baths (I prefer the company of others) after getting there properly clad in the elegant yukatas provided, a full moon bobbles up over the steamy water’ surface, eliciting a communal ‘Ahhh’.
This is not purple prose, neither is it a coincidence. The level of research done by Australian architect Kerry Hill is mindboggling.
The baths are facing east to catch both the sun and the moon rising.
Although the baths are overlooking the Tokyo cityscape and have a whole wall of floor to ceiling glass, you simply don’t see the buildings below when you are in the hot pool, because they remain entirely out of the line of vision.
Every angle has been calculated to create the feeling of a peaceful haven suspended in space.
Don’t tell me you like the food!
Food at the Restaurant is an all-out affair fusing east and west techniques using the freshest of produce and presented in a uniquely Japanese way. Breakfasts are a feast in themselves.
While looking at Mt Fuji -snow clad and brilliant in the sunshine – I realise that the beautiful dish in front of me is the Chef’s version of the bagel and cream cheese with smoked salmon I ordered.
It really is too pretty to eat. The eggs Benedict are to die for too. Poached to absolute perfection, they are runny, sunny and satisfying.
What’s the bottom line?
In a nutshell, the Aman Tokyo is an unlikely haven of peace and refinement to where you retire to breath in the scents, the colour and the architecture of Japan.
My feeling -when I return every day from the exciting city life Tokyo has to offer – is that of climbing into a giant paper lantern suspended in the sky where I can relax and be pampered surrounded by exquisite pieces of art in a stunningly designed space.
Maria Visconti was a guest of Aman Tokyo