Tokyo: Hotel Chinzanso
The garden of Tokyo's most storied hotel is home to a 500-year old sacred tree, a thousand year-old pagoda , and some of the most delicious soba noodles you'll ever eat.
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Hotel Chinzanso10-8, Sekiguchi 2-Chome Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan +813/3943-0096 hotel-chinzanso-tokyo.jp
Walking the winding pathways of the Chinzanso Garden
Japanese tea ceremony in the 100-year-old teahouse
Japanese breakfast at Miyuki restaurant
- 259 spacious guest rooms
- 24-hour room service and laundry service
- 13 restaurants
- Spa, fitness center, indoor/outdoor Jacuzzi and pool
- Broadband and wireless Internet connection
- L'Occitane bath amenities
- Terry robe and slippers
The view from my room, of contemporary and traditional Japan, perfectly encapsulates the Chinzanso. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, with all of the trappings of a contemporary hotel (impeccable service, wi-fi, devastatingly comfortable beds) along with Japanese touches, such as the deep soaking tub in the bathrooms. The hotel just celebrated its 60th anniversary on January 1, 2013, but the property goes back much further than six decades. In 1877, Japanese statesman Prince Aritomo Yamagata designed the 17 acres of lush landscape that surrounds the to recreate the rolling hills of his hometown. Since then, dozens of sculptures, artifacts, and monuments from all over Japan, some centuries old, have been incorporated into the garden, and to stroll along its winding paths is to walk through history. I bask in the shade of a 500-year-old sacred tree, then wander over to a towering three-tiered pagoda, thought to be a thousand years old, and transported to the garden from the mountains of Hiroshima. In addition to the hours of exploration and contemplation that the garden affords, it's also home to four of the hotel's 13 dining establishments.
Mucha-an, a soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant, is housed in a wood-framed building that used to be a traditional inn that's located in the center of the garden. The structure, thought to be hundreds of years old, was brought to Chinzanso in 1954, and it's possibly the most atmospheric place in the world for slurping soba noodles: cozy, and lit by paper lanterns that hang from exposed beams. Thea noodles are made in-house, with buckwheat imported from the island of Hokkaido, and are served simply, with duck, tempura, or a small range of toppings. It's winter when I visit, so I opt for a bowl of hot noodles, and ask for tororo, grated mountain potato, as an accompaniment. The noodles are slippery and just slightly firm, come topped with the wonderfully silken grated tororo, which I stir, along with crisp bean sprouts and pungent scallions, into the hot, intensely savory broth. Gazing out of the large windows at the idyllic surroundings, I sip a hot cup of toasted buckwheat tea and happily slurp down my meal.
The following night, I eat at Kinsui, Chinzanso's traditional kaiseki restaurant, also located in a freestanding structure in the garden. Kaiseki, one of Japan's most refined cooking traditions, consists here of 12 courses, each prepared with the freshest, local ingredients prepared and presented to highlighting seasonal flavors. During my meal there, they unfolded like acts of a play: a sea urchin resting on a small bed of ice covered in a translucent disc of radish representing the first frost; a sweet bean confection in the color and shape of an autumn leaf; hollowed out persimmons containing yuba, a rich, silky handmade tofu topped with sweet crab; fried gingko nuts paired with small cups of julienned jellyfish. To finish the meal, we head for the teahouse, for a private tea ceremony, where a scroll on the wall reads: ichigo-ichie—"Once in a lifetime opportunity." I finish my meal, and leave Chinzanso knowing I have experienced just that. —Julia Norton
IN THE AREA
- Graze at the Food Show at Tokyu Department Store, Shibuya: Take a taxi from the hotel to Shibuya, the glitzy neighborhood around Shibuya Station that puts Times Square to shame. Adjacent to the train station is the high-end Tokyu Department Store, which features an expansive gourmet food market at its basement level. Here you can find everything from everyday groceries, fresh seafood and produce to beautifully packaged confections and pristine rows of Japan's finest street food. Look for grilled skewers of marinated meat, kabocha (pumpkin) tempura, fish-shaped red bean pastries and takoyaki (balls of octopus batter cooked in a special cast iron form and drizzled with sauce and dried bonito flakes). If you're more in a grazing mood, you can take advantage of numerous free samples and grab a bento box for lunch on the go. Tokyu Department Store, B1 Flo, 2-24-1 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo ; tel: +813/3477-3111 ; www.tokyu-dept.co.jp/foodshow/
- Sushi for Breakfast at Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market: You'll have to be in line at 5am to gain access to the daily tuna auction, but it's worth it to experience the front lines of Japan's seafood industry, where top seafood buyers vie for world-class fish. After the auction ends, you can grab an early morning breakfast at any number of tiny eateries at the outskirts of the market, where the fish—fresh off the auction block—gets sliced and diced and served atop steamed, vinegared rice. At Yonehana, Jiro "JJ" Yonehana warmly welcomes guests a shop plastered with ink drawings of sea creatures (the artwork is his own). His specialty is unagi (grilled eel), but this is also an excellent place to grab a reasonably priced kaisen-don: thick slices of sashimi (such as yellow-tail, fatty tuna, red tuna, bonito) served with rice, wasabi and pickled ginger, along with hearty bowls of miso soup. Tsukiji Market: 5-2 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan; tel: +297-588-3648; ; www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm Space is limited to 120 viewers on a first-come first-serve basis, so get there early. Yonehana: 104-0045 5-2-1 N-8 Building, Tsukiji Fish Market ; +813/3541-5670