Story and photos by Melanie Votaw
Additional photo courtesy of the hotel
10-8, Sekiguchi 2-chome
The main draw of Tokyo’s Hotel Chinzanso is its 17-acre garden, and while that garden is nothing short of spectacular, there’s certainly a lot more to love about this hotel. Formerly a Four Seasons, Hotel Chinzanso has quite a history. The area was known for its wild camellias for six centuries, and the word “Chinzanso” means “guest house on Camellia Hill.”
The land was owned by Prince Aritomo Yamagata in the 1920s and then passed on to Baron Heitaro Fujita. The garden was destroyed by air raids during World War II, after which it was acquired by Fujita Kanko Incorporated and restored with 10,000 trees.
This property now is almost like a resort in the city. It has Tokyo’s largest hotel spa, 36 meeting and banquet rooms, and 260 rooms and suites. Then, there are nine restaurants and bars: Il Teatro serves Italian cuisine; The Bistro provides casual French dining; Kinsui in the garden serves kaiseki meals; Mokushundo serves old-style dishes cooked on hot lava rocks from Mount Fuji; Miyuki provides elegant Japanese cuisine; Mucha-An is a Soba restaurant; Le Jardin bar serves English-style afternoon tea and drinks in the evening; Le Marquis is the hotel’s main bar that also allows cigar smoking; and finally, Foresta is a café that serves coffee and sweets.
Breakfast at Il Teatro is decidedly elegant. Rather than buffet-style, there are various menus available at different price ranges. I had a full American-style breakfast for about $35US with eggs, bacon, toast, juice, and pastries. Everything was as high quality as you would expect, including the service.
The décor of this hotel is traditional with antiques and Japanese designs throughout. Just walking through the many hallways and common areas is a treat for the senses. You’ll find paintings, sculptures, ceramics, unusual furniture, marble floors, and colorful carpets everywhere you turn.
My room was also beyond what I usually find in 5-star hotels. First of all, I had a panoramic view of the garden, and the thick, floral curtains alone were especially luxurious. Besides the customary amenities you find in luxury hotels, most rooms at Chinzanso contain CD and DVD players, tea/coffee-makers, and televisions in the bathroom. Humidifiers are also available on loan.
I had a king-sized bed, two chairs, a desk, a credenza with television, a minibar with dishes including wine glasses, and a separate bathtub and shower. Like many high-end hotels in Tokyo, I was provided with a cell phone for local use that also allowed unlimited international calls. You can enter your own data into the phone and erase it before checkout. This is such a wonderful perk in Japan, along with the extra amenities that you rarely get elsewhere like toothbrushes, hair ties, shavers, and shaving cream.
Regardless of Hotel Chinzanso’s many charms, I do need to pay appropriate tribute to the garden. With grounds of this size, the property isn’t what you’d call centrally located, but that’s a small price to pay for what amounts to a quiet oasis in such a busy metropolis. I took a glorious stroll on the grounds for about two hours in my first morning.
The garden contains a number of historical artifacts, including a three-story pagoda. At first, I assumed it was a replica built in modern times, but not so. The pagoda was found in Chikurin-jiTemple in the mountains of Hiroshima and is believed to have been built during the first half of the Heian period from 794-1185. There is evidence that it was renovated in the 1100’s, and it underwent a full-scale renovation from 2010-2011. After the renovation was completed, a ritual was carried out by Raitei Arima, the 113th head priest of Shokoku-ji Temple.
The garden also contains a pond, separate rooftop “serenity garden,” shrine, manmade waterfall, 500-year-old sacred tree, water basin from the Edo Period, 50 traditional copper lanterns, monuments that are hundreds of years old, numerous statues of gods and goddesses (all with markers explaining who they are and what they stand for), and other artifacts and features that make the stroll interesting, as well as peaceful. At certain times of the year, there’s a spot within the garden that fills with fireflies, and dozens of cherry blossoms bloom there in early spring. With chapels on the grounds as well, it’s a popular location for weddings.
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