Saturday, February 16, 2008

Atmospheric hotels from Meiji era

A dozen luxury hotels in Tokyo offer their guest the best modern comfort and the latest trends. We will certainly come back in another story on the “Shinjuku Park Hyatt”, where “Lost in Translation movie” was shot. You will impress your guests by entertaining them in the “New York bar”, and guiding them through the list of whiskies. Through the large window, you will oversee the city, its buildings, neon lights, taxis and people. Each new tower in Tokyo, from Roppongi-Hills to Tokyo Mid-town adds its own trendy place. Those are great to seduce, entertain, close deals, and celebrate, but they may not be appropriate to all moods.
Life is also made of nostalgia, regrets, thoughts, memories from old times, gratitude and old pictures. Those moments are also important, but they do not match well with the clean and trendy modern Japan. So you may want to spend a few hours in two old hotels from the Meiji era. Japanese people call them “Classic hotels” (クラシックホテル).
Kyoto (京都) is the most famous historical town in Japan, but some people may prefer Nara (奈良). Capital of Japan in the 8th century, the place is famous for its great Buddha, and the beautiful park surrounding it. Deer wander freely there, and often beg food from the tourists walking in the park. Nara Hotel (奈良ホテル) is at the southern end of Nara Park, on the top of a small hill behind a pond. From the outside, it looks like a large traditional Japanese temple. Inside the building, the atmosphere is more “colonial”, with its red carpets and leather seats from the 30s, The walls keep a typical Japanese touch with their wooden frame. Whether you come here for on overnight stay, or just for a cup of tea, the service will be outstanding. The food served is classical fare, but of a very high quality.
The hotel was built in 1909, and has a long list of famous guests, including Prokofiev, Audrey Hepburn, and most of the Japanese imperial family. The hotel was occupied by the American army after the war. It barely escaped a repainting in bright colors planned by the occupiers thanks to the stubbornness of the Japanese manager of that time. There were also plans to add a modern tower in the seventies, but the project was scrapped thanks to planning rules.
Closer from Tokyo the hot resort of Hakone (箱根) is famous for its hot springs, great hiking and a lake with superb views on Mount-Fuji (富士山). The town was a major stage in the Tokaido road, and the shoguns were controlling there people moving in and out of Tokyo. Fujiya Hotel (富士屋ホテル) is close to the Miyanoshita station (宮ノ下). It was founded in the 11th year of Meiji era (1878), and was for a time a hotel dedicated to foreigners (1893-1912). It was also occupied for a few years after the war by the American troops. Black and white pictures of the most famous guests of the hotels are displayed in a corridor. It is also possible to visit the room where John Lenon and his wife stayed for a few months.
The hotel is a group of wooden buildings in various styles. Most rooms are western style, but a small pavilion in the garden offers traditional Japanese-style ryokan (旅) service; with tatami room, futon, and traditional dinner served in the room. The rooms are atmospheric, with their parquet floor and white walls with wooden frames. Walls and furniture are timeworn. It would be a shame to stay too much in the room. A quiet lounge with deep leather sofa is the ideal place to spend an afternoon reading a book or a good magazine. The hotel museum gathers memories from the hotel history. The bar is quite surprising The counter is covered by a Japanese style roof, but the rest of the room is very uncluttered. Hot springs and a very beautiful old indoor pool are also available. Behind the buildings is a very beautiful Japanese garden. It includes a greenhouse that uses the hot springs to raise tropical plants. Dinner and breakfast are served in the impressive restaurant, with its superb painted wood ceiling. Classical French food is served. Before you leave, you can buy “curry bread” in the hotel shops. They are known as one of the bests in Japan.

You could find until recently a similar atmosphere in the “Tokyo Station Hotel” (東京ステーションホテル), which is inside the Tokyo station. The hotel is more recent (1914) and smaller, but kept the red carpet and wood floor. It is unfortunately closed until 2011 due to renovation that will give back to Tokyo station its original shape. Travelers to Nikko may want to stop in the “Nikko Kaneya Hotel”, the oldest of Japanese hotels, first opened in Year 6 of Meiji era.
The two hotels mentioned here are not cheap. However, for the same price as another high-end hotel, You will definitely have a more stylish experience. Travelers with a smaller budget may however drop there for a cup of tea, or a drink at the bar, and enjoy the atmosphere and the excellent service for a few hours.

Nara Hotel (奈良ホテル)

1096, takabatake-cho, Nara, 630-8301 (〒630-8301奈良市高畑町1096) Tel: 81-742-26-3300. Access by bus (stand no3) from Nara station (奈良駅) or Kintetsu Nara(金鉄奈良駅). A direct bus is also available from Kansai International airport.
Single rooms from Y15.000 (90 Euros) to Y21.000 (127 Euros) breakfast included. Double rooms from Y12.000 (72 Euros) to Y20.000 per person (121 Euros) breakfast included.

Fujiya Hotel (富士屋ホテル)

359 Miyanoshita, Hakone-machi, Kanagawa-ken 250-0404 (〒250-0404
神奈川県足柄下郡箱根町宮ノ下359), JAPAN Tel 460-82-2211
Access by bys ( Miyanoshita Onsen stop) or by Hakone Touzan railways (箱根登山鉄道), Myanoshita station (宮ノ下), 7 minutes by foot from the station. Train and bus start from Hakone Yumoto ( 箱根湯元). This station can be reached from Shinjuku station (新宿) in Tokyo by direct trains from the Odakyu railway company (小田急線)
Special offer for foreigners at US$130 per room (when available). Dinner, night and breakfast (Flower Palace Plan) in rooms built in 1936: from Y26.000 (157 Euro) per person on weekdays to 31.000 (187 Euros) per person on week-ends or holidays for a double room. Tea lounge “Orchid” open from 9am to 9pm, bar “Victoria” open from 5pm to 11pm, cover charge of Y515 per person.

Nikko Kaneya Hotel (日光金谷ホテル)

1300 Kamihatsuishi-Machi Nikko Tochigi-ken 312-1401 (321-1401栃木県日光市上鉢石町1300). Tel 0288-54-001. 15 by foot from Tobu-Nikko station (東武日光)or Nikko JR Station (日光). Alternatively, the bus bound for Yumoto-Onsen (湯元温泉) stops nearby at Shin-kyo station (神橋).

From Y21.000 (127 Euros) to Y39.000 (236 Euros) per person for dinner, night and breakfast on week-ends, from Y19.500 (118 Euros)) to Y37.000 (224 Euros) per person on week days.
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