“This is Shangri-la,” said the concierge, nodding towards the thousands of sparkling chandelier crystals that illuminated silk tapestries and gilded artwork that decorated the hotel’s sky lobby. Located in the top floors of a corporate park and perched above Tokyo Station, the Shangri-la Tokyo, certainly was every bit the oasis worthy of it’s namesake, a gem among the city’s skyscrapers. Last month I ventured to Japan for the first time, and took the opportunity to check in- and check out- the newest luxury hotel in Tokyo.
The Shangri-la could not have been situated in a better location for a first time Tokyo visitor. I was very much surprised to find that navigating the city can be difficult for a non-Japanese speaker. English is rarely used even in signage and the streets can be incredibly confusing. Luckily, the hotel is right outside the central Tokyo Station, which is where you would be dropped off by train coming in from Narita Airport. The hotel is located atop the Marunouchi Trust Tower, right outside the north Marunouchi exit at the station. Once outside the station, there is actually very clear signage directing you to the hotel entrance- but those with a lot of luggage or who don’t want to risk making a wrong turn can ask the hotel to have a staff member meet you at your train platform upon arrival.
Aside from its adjacency to Tokyo Station, the Shangri-la is actually situated in an optimal location to cater to any Tokyo traveler. Shoppers will find the ritzy Ginza district to be only a ten minute walk away, culture enthusiasts will be delighted to walk out of the hotel and almost right into the Imperial Palace, and business travelers will find the hotel location extremely convenient to the Nihonbashi financial district.
If I had to pick one phrase to describe the experience at Shangri-la Tokyo, it would be “extreme attention to detail.” Hotel staff seem to pop out of nowhere to help you carry luggage (this happened to me twice!). When I asked a Horizon Club Room attendant to call me when a visitor arrived- the next thing I knew, he was brought up to the club room and treated like a club guest. Even the artwork that was commissioned for the hotel exemplifies a painstaking dedication to all the small details. The floor to ceiling silk tapestries that adorn the 28th fl lobby bar are double sided and hand embroidered with thousands of crystals and gold threads. The ceramic art installation at the 1st floor lobby (above)- much like the hotel operation itself- is composed of hundreds of movable pieces that form a seamless greater picture.
Even the smallest room at the Shangri-la Tokyo is spacious and luxurious. Entry level rooms begin at 50 sq meters- or roughly 550 sq ft- overlooking Tokyo’s dynamic skyline and bay. As someone who lives in a studio apartment of that size, I was in absolute awe how gorgeous the room was (why can’t my apartment look like that?!) Both Japanese and Western travelers will find the rooms to be very comfortable with a lot of detailing and amenities designed to make travelers feel “at home.”
I, for one, was particularly impressed with the bathroom- which I shall break down into three parts. First, there is a large dressing and vanity area with double sinks that opens into large closets. Secondly, the toilet occupies its own room to the left corner of the main bathroom. Western travelers will be amazed by the smart Toto toilets which feature everything from heated seats to automatic moving covers. Thirdly and my favorite part of the bathroom is the large, glass encased room which housed a large soaking tub on one side..and doubled as the entire shower- making it the largest shower (and only shower room) of any hotel room I’ve stayed at to date. I was particularly enamored with the largest rain-forest shower-head I’ve ever stepped under, all while looking out onto the room and into the cityscape.
Traditional Japanese Robes
Other touches that I particularly loved: flowers and original artwork scattered throughout the room, fresh pajamas that were laid out nightly at turn down service, a long chaise at the window with swing out table tops- providing a comfortable alternative to working at the desk, one touch wall controllers for all the lighting and shades, and traditional Japanese robes alongside Western style plush robes in the closet.
According to my Japanese friends, there is a certain prestige to dining at, and therefore being seen, at an upscale hotel restaurant. Luckily for Shangri-la guests, the hotel’s two restaurants, Piacere and Nadaman are just as much culinary destinations as they are social scenes. Piacere, the Italian restaurant on the 28th fl is about as authentic as you can get to Italian food in Japan- with everyone from the chef to the design team to the furniture hailing from Italy. This is also a must-try destination for wine aficionados, as their wine cellar includes all kinds of hard-to-find and vintage bottles.
I , however, chose to dine at Nadaman, the upscale Japanese restaurant on the 29th floor. The design of the space itself is very beautiful and tranquil with long smooth lines and soothing colors. The wait staff is dressed in traditional ornate Japanese garb and the whole experience feels as if you’re in a Japanese ritual. Nadaman offers a host of authentic cuisines including sukiyaki, shabu-shabu, sushi and teppanyaki. I recommend a traditional set lunch options for those who want to try a little bit of everything and who have a leisurely hour or so to spend. Since a picture is worth more words than I can write, I’ll document my lunch below visually.
– Take the bullet train to Tokyo Station from Narita Airport. While the hotel does offer car service, the trip can take almost two hours and Japanese transportation prices are no joke- you may be looking upwards of US $1000 per trip.
– When traveling by taxi, make sure to bring the Shangri-la card with you to show your driver. As the hotel is new, you may find that many drivers don’t know where it is! Not to mention, showing the driver the address is much easier than trying to explain it in English.
– The hotel concierge will quickly become one of your best resources. Ask them to draw out for you on the map how to get to certain places. Ask them about the best way to go by train as well. The Tokyo Subway system can be extremely confusing (and expensive!) without insider knowledge.
– The Japanese bowing etiquette can seem a bit foreign to Westerners. As a guest of the hotel, you will be bowed to by everyone from housekeeping to the front desk staff. While you’re not expected to return the gesture, I found that a smile and a headnod is much appreciated.
– While the hotel offers fine dining, sometimes you just want some local grub! Do as the businessmen in Tokyo do and stop by the food court in Tokyo Station for any type of Japanese comfort food. On the opposite side of Tokyo Station, there’s an elevated train track with many dive bars underneath.
– In Japanese culture, presentation is everything- even when dining. At upscale restaurants, your food will be brought out impeccably presented- with lids for most cups and bowls. Once you’re finished with the food, return all lids, cups, bowls, and plates to their original presentation which will signal the wait staff to clear your table.
– The hotel can book your return train tickets to the airport even day of, and will not add a service charge. This perk saved me so much time on the last day.
– Ask the hotel to have someone escort you to your train platform in Tokyo Station on your day of departure. Even if you made it to the hotel from the station by yourself, finding the platform for the Narita Express is no easy feat!
I was particularly excited to stay at the Shangri-la Tokyo, not only because of all the reasons I listed above, but because the property was one of the first to lead a global expansion of “New Shangri-la’s.” As the chain aggressively moves into new markets, each new hotel will feature modern luxuries and technologies that are simply not found in hotels that have been open for a while. I am always eager to find out what’s new and cutting edge, so I particularly appreciated the modern feel of the Shangri-la Tokyo- from the automatic window shades to oscillating bidets. Yet, I also love that the hotel has stayed true to the extravagant DNA of the Shangri-la brand, possessing a glitz and glamour that is very authentically, upscale “Asian.” It’s impossible, while standing under a thousand chandelier crystals in a whisper-quiet high speed elevator, not to feel like you’re at the intersection of modern technology and old world enchantment. And to this digital age gal, that’s my idea of Shangri-la.