When the doors to their 36th-floor sky lobby opened I found myself in sensory overdrive. The house scent, an exquisite concoction of Hinoki cypress oil, was like nothing I had smelled before. A DJ played at the hotel’s Sky Gallery Lounge, in front of giant glass windows that looked down onto the glistening city.
After a night of excellent sleep (all rooms at Prince Gallery are installed with iRiS software, so that you can control artificial lighting and completely block out any natural light with a touch of a bedside button), I headed to the gym for a workout and swim. The Prince Gallery gym is one of the largest I’ve seen in this tight and compact city. They also have a pool with real lanes. I forgot a swimming cap and had to buy one to be allowed into the pool. Like most things in Tokyo, the pool water felt fresher and cleaner than what I’m used to in the US, no doubt in part because hygiene rules are taken more seriously. One moment I remember taking my goggles off for a pause to find three people standing around the pool to make sure that everyone was wearing swim caps and had showered before they entered the pool.
Afterward, I took off my swim trunks and took a soak in Prince Gallery’s spa and sauna. In the middle of the day, the two pools (one hot, one cold) and the dry sauna were all empty. I rotated between the different temperatures until my body felt so unwound that all I could do was go back to my room and layed on my window-side day bed, looking at the tiny cars below driving by. The views from Prince Gallery are just spectacular. The hotel is built along a lake that used to be part of the moat for Edo Castle, sandwiched between the Akasaka Palace (where the Prince lives) and the Imperial Palace (where the Emperor lives). To catch summer fireworks in July and August, and for views of Mount Fuji on clear days, book a west-facing room. For views of the Imperial Palace, book an east-facing room.
From the window in my room I watched as hundreds of people walked along the streets below. Then, suddenly, I heard a growl and looked up to see the Godzilla statue atop Toho Cinemas stomping and chomping. Only in Tokyo. The convenience of this Prince location is hard to beat—the second floor is the Seibu Shinjuku Station, and it’s a five-minute walk for JR lines. Though there’s no gym, a room at this hotel costs a relatively reasonable amount, and is within walking distance to many gay bars.
On our last two nights in Tokyo, we stayed at HOSHINOYA Tokyo and found every excuse possible not to leave its premises. When we entered, three staff members bowed and greeted us in unison. They took our shoes at the entrance and placed them in stacked boxes of woven bamboo crates. Then, they gave us our key pouch (the key is a card, inside a wooden box, inside a silk pouch) and walked us to our rooms. Opened July 2016, HOSHINOYA Tokyo is a modern take of the ryokan, tatami-matted inns, whose traditions begin as far back as the eighth century. While most ryokans are in the countryside, where they have more space to spread out horizontally, in Tokyo, there’s only space to build up. Every guestroom on all 14 floors is a suite. Each floor has a common lounge area where hotel staff is on hand to serve you snacks and tea.
Where I spent the most time was on the rooftop, which has been transformed into an amazing saltwater hot spring. Supplied by ancient ocean water pumped up from beneath the hotel, this is one special onsen. High walls block out sound and light, transporting you from the busy financial district to remote oasis. Late one night, when jet lag hit, I went up and watched the faint stars above, reveling in my solitude.