Tokyo doesn’t have any grand historic hotels on a par with, say, The Peninsula Hong Kong or Raffles Singapore. In fact, it doesn’t have any old hotels, period, due to natural and manmade calamities over the past century and Tokyo’s zeal for modernization. In addition, it was only in the latter decades of the 19th century, after 250 years of Japan’s self-imposed isolation, Japan developed a need for Western-style hotels with beds instead of the customary futons and tatami floors of a Japanese inn. At the request of the Imperial family, the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo opened in 1890 to house foreign visitors. Despite several reincarnations, it remains one of the country’s most famous hotels and the closest one can get to a luxury Tokyo property with history.
Because of its royal connections, Imperial Hotel has one of the most enviable locations in town, not far from the Imperial Palace and attractive Hibiya Park, opened in 1903 as Japan’s first Western-style park. Also nearby are Ginza with its upscale restaurants and swanky international boutiques; the Marunouchi financial district; Kabukiza Theatre; Tokyo Station; subway stations; and the Imperial Palace’s peaceful East Garden, popular for its Edo Castle remains and traditional Japanese garden.
With its 130-year history, Imperial Hotel also has one of the most illustrious narratives in town. American architect Frank Lloyd Wright completely redesigned the hotel in 1923, with a grand reopening scheduled the very day the horrific Great Kanto Earthquake claimed an estimated 140,000 lives and flattened much of the city. Wright’s hotel not only survived the earthquake, but thrived, going on to garner many firsts in the hotel industry. The Imperial was the first hotel to host a wedding and open a shopping arcade. It also introduced buffet-style dining (known as “Viking” in Japan) and laundry service. Over the years it attracted a who’s who of important travelers, including Albert Einstein, Babe Ruth, Helen Keller, Queen Elizabeth, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.
In 1970, Wright’s hotel was regrettably replaced by a larger and more modern structure, with a 31-story tower added in 1983. The hotel pays tribute to Wright in the clubby Old Imperial Bar, which contains a mural, an Art Deco terracotta wall, the architect’s desk and other hotel originals. The cocktail of choice is the Mount Fuji, created by the bar in 1924. Well-heeled guests can opt to stay in the Frank Lloyd Wright Suite, featuring an Oya stone relief, handmade stained glass and replica oak furniture. Wright fans might even wish to visit Meiji Mura in Aichi Prefecture, an open-air architectural museum where the hotel’s original façade and lobby have been perfectly preserved.
The Imperial Hotel, Tokyo stands out for its impeccable service, its knowledgeable guest relations officers who help guests with everything from restaurant reservations to sightseeing tours, and one of the city’s most extensive shopping arcades. It also offers one of the capital’s largest business centers, a post office, physician and dentist offices, a barbershop, salons offering everything from nail treatments to shiatsu massage, the Toko-An traditional tea-ceremony room, a babysitting room for young children, and even a music room equipped with a Steinway grand piano, which hotel guests can reserve for two hours free.
Other facilities include a heated swimming pool with large windows overlooking the metropolis, a fitness center, saunas, traditional public baths and massage. Like in most of Japan’s hotels, fees are charged, but guests who join Imperial Club International (membership is free) can use the pool and fitness room without charge.
The Imperial’s 13 restaurants cover all the Japanese favorites, from teppanyaki cooked in front of guests on an open grill to tempura, sushi, sukiyaki and beautifully prepared kaiseki feasts. Les Saisons, serving French fare under the helm of Thierry Voisin, is the hotel’s signature restaurant, while La Brasserie serves time-honored hotel classics like the gratin of shrimp and sole created for Queen Elizabeth’s visit. The Imperial Viking Sal remains one of the hotel’s most popular venues for its buffet of international dishes. Other options include Chinese fare and the casual Parkside Diner.
With 1,019 rooms and suites, the Imperial offers a wide range of choices in both the main building and tower. Classically modern with unfussy furnishings and neutral colors designed for comfort, they feature all the creature comforts, from bathrobes to refrigerators, and range from corner suites and standard rooms to connecting family rooms. Views are of Hibiya Park, the Shinkansen bullet train tracks, or surrounding Ginza and Hibiya, with those from upper floors of the tower providing the most expansive bay window panoramas.
In short, the venerable Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, appeals to travelers looking for tradition and history in a convenient location.
1-1, Uchisaiwai-cho 1-chome,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8558
tel 81 3 3504 1111
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