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Safety in Style: The Future of Luxury Travel in Tokyo

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Tokyo’s luxury travel experiences are driving the industry’s standards of comfort forward. We partnered with Tokyo Metropolitan Government to showcase four of the best, and how their creators and proprietors are always innovating.

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz

Sunlight glints off the glass-smooth façade of a futuristic tower rising high into the sky, while a dolphin-nosed bullet train glides seamlessly out of a
train station.

Meanwhile, not far away, crowds flow past traditional sweet stalls before passing through the vermillion gates of a centuries-old Buddhist temple into swirls of incense smoke.

Tokyo. The Japanese capital is a city that has long been celebrated for its seamless urban fusion new with old, innovation with tradition, the future with the past. The end result is an ever-evolving megalopolis with a dynamic cocktail of facets to explore, from world-class modern architecture and ancient cultural sights to cutting-edge shopping and once-in-a-lifetime dining.

Despite its mind-boggling proportions, it’s also a city that works; it is safe, punctual, and surprisingly easy to get around—not to mention clean (it’s notable that the word kirei means both clean and beautiful in Japanese). A respect for cleanliness is entrenched in Tokyo life; bowing is favored above shaking hands, shoes are removed at home entrances, hands are washed at the threshold of shrines and, at the moment, it’s nigh-impossible to find anyone without a mask in public.

Tokyo’s establishments take COVID rules very seriously, with a classically Japanese-style attention to detail. Restaurants are widely spreading out customers, often with fewer tables and clear table dividers, plus QR code menus and paper mask holders. Advance reservations also ensure that most art galleries and museums are crowd-free, while hand cleaner remains ubiquitous in almost every doorway, from five-star hotels to supermarkets.

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz
Hand sanitizer machines set up around the hotel match the building's sleek design.

The words “urban paradise” and “Buddhist temple” don’t often appear in the same sentence—unless you happen to be describing the 31st floor lobby of The Tokyo EDITION, Toranomon.

The new hotel, Japan’s first EDITION (a second opens soon in Ginza), has not only shaken up Tokyo’s luxury scene, spurred on by its two creators, maverick New York hotelier Ian Schrager and architect Kengo Kuma—it's also a textbook perfect example of how the capital’s top-tier establishments are combining style with safety.

Tokyo has long been renowned for the star quality of its dazzlingly deluxe hotels—and it’s a world that has adjusted to the “new normal” of a global pandemic in typically smooth style.

This should come as little surprise to anyone familiar with the city hotels’ legendary mastery of omotenashi—that near intuitive (and exquisitely Japanese) hospitality skill of knowing exactly what guests want, often before they know it themselves. As a result, hotels across the capital have installed a plethora of anti-COVID measures which are as rigorous, efficient and innovative as they are thoughtful and discreet.

One stellar example is The Tokyo EDITION, Toranomon, located in the upper levels of a skyscraper in sleek business hub Toranomon. Its heartbeat emanates from the lobby; an open-plan layout inspired by Buddhist temple courtyards—including a whole Garden Terrace on the 31st floor—is flooded with 500-plus plants, from sword ferns to alocasia. Among the floating foliage is a white marble bar, featuring intimate cocoons of window-side seating with diaphanous curtains and glowing decanters, as well as the scalloped velvet seating of The Blue Room (with cartoon-like close-ups of Tokyo Tower and global-meets-local cuisine).

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz
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The moment guests enter the hotel, anti-COVID measures kick into play: not confined to simple temperature screening and hand washing, a whole new contactless world of checking in unfolds. Guests can swap face-to-face interactions with an app, which enables contactless check in with a mobile key via their phone—with countless other activities also available at the press of a button (even in-room dining can be ordered on phones) plus free hand cleaner and masks in all rooms.

The 206 guestrooms offer a serene respite from a pandemic world, with minimalist expanses of light oak panels and simple gold leaf artworks, along with the unforgettable classic Tokyo skyscraper views (best savored in 15 popular guest rooms boasting the ultimate luxury: private terraces with plenty of fresh air).

It’s a seamless marriage of luxury with safety, as embraced by many establishments across the capital—making a hotel stay in Tokyo feel perhaps even more memorable than ever before.

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LUXURY RESTAURANTSNARISAWA

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz

It’s a microcosm of nature on a plate: on a plateau of wood sits a bucolic scattering of wild grasses, soil made from charcoal and moss elementally recreated from chlorophyll taken from spinach, alongside a bamboo cup containing the essence of cedar and oak.

This mesmerizing creation, a signature dish fusing tradition with innovation by world-famed chef Yoshihiro Narisawa, is one of countless gastronomical delights which visitors to Tokyo can currently enjoy across the capital—in surroundings that are as safe as they are atmospheric.

Tokyo is nirvana for foodies, with a world-famous culinary scene celebrated for being as cutting edge and high quality as it is sensitively seasonal. And reassuringly for food-lovers, pandemic safety measures are now executed as superlatively as the food served up on plates (or, in this instance, wood) in the city’s top restaurants.

Luxury restaurants have been quick to embrace innovations to keep their culinary creations alive and their venues safe—from reduced tables and staggered dining to the most stringent of hygiene measures for guests and staff alike.

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz
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Credit: David Jaskiewicz

Narisawa, a chef deeply inspired by Japan’s traditional rural landscape of forests, mountains and seas, is no exception. At his sleek eponymously-named restaurant in Aoyama—a regular figure on World’s Best Restaurant lists—Satoyama Scenery is one of a number of Narisawa’s signature creations, fusing tradition with innovation, which have been served to guests throughout the pandemic (others range from Bread of the Forest, which rises by candlelight; to Gion Festival, with petal-strewn eggplant evoking Kyoto’s famous summer celebration).

For all his artistic gastronomy, Narisawa’s cuisine is rooted in Japan’s respect for the seasons and a timeless passion for sustainability; he sources food directly from 200-plus producers across the country, from a Kamo eggplant harvested in Kyoto for just one month a year to Okinawan sea snake from southern subtropical waters.

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz
The restaurant employs various methods to ensure safety, from hand sanitizer to paper envelopes to protect guests' masks.

All of which can be enjoyed in superlative comfort and safety: as at many top restaurants across the capital, anti-COVID measures are stringent, from temperature checks, hand washing, and reduced tables for social distancing to the discreet (and very hygienic) paper envelopes inside which guests can place their face masks while eating.

Another treat? Narisawa is one of a growing number of top-tier Tokyo chefs who have started offering luxurious take-out services since the pandemic unfolded—enabling food lovers to enjoy the highest quality culinary creations from the comfort and safety of private homes or hotel guestrooms for the first time.

It’s just one welcome innovation (among many) to have become the new normal on Tokyo’s colorful restaurant scene, confirming to global food-lovers that the Japanese capital remains firmly on the culinary map—and is both safe and as alluring as ever.

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Credit: Sergio Coimbra
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Credit: David Jaskiewicz
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Credit: David Jaskiewicz
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Credit: Courtesy of NARISAWA

LUXURY SHOPPING Spiral

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Copper tea tins made by Kyoto artisans. Organically glazed teacups from the crafts-rich Gifu region. Soft striped towels from world-famous textile hub Imabari. And hand-stitched leather totes from southern Kagoshima.

Located on the second floor of Spiral, Spiral Market is nirvana for modern Japanese design lovers. From ceramics and cutlery to scarves and notepads, it’s a one-stop wonder with a meticulous curation of crafted goods made by contemporary artisans and designers across the archipelago.

Shopping in Tokyo—a temple to all things retail—has long been in its own gold-star league. A glorious mix of retail choices is available across the spectrum—from avant-garde Japanese fashion to exquisite hand-crafted kitchen knives (plus everything imaginable in between)—all topped with a dose of flawless hospitality

And now, one more layer has been added to Japan’s seductive retail world: an unwavering repertoire of anti-COVID measures, to ensure shopping in Tokyo remains as safe as it is inspiring.

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz
All guests are required to wear masks and sanitize their hands before entering, a policy enforced by shops all over Tokyo.

A textbook perfect example is the Spiral building, an art complex near Omotesando that features various shops (Spiral Market among them), restaurants, and exhibition spaces as well as a modern tearoom, yoga studio, and beauty salon.

As replicated in countless shops across the capital, anti-COVID measures are discreetly implemented throughout, with all visitors required to disinfect hands and wear masks. Guests are asked to limit the number of people permitted per elevator, while doors and windows are kept open and the ventilation system ensures proper air circulation in and out of the facility.

All of this creates a safe, relaxing, and comfortable backdrop for exploring Spiral Market. Here, a diverse range of lifestyle goods—kitchen tools, bathroom products, stationary, fashion accessories—are unified by the key concept of “eternal design,” perfectly reflecting Japan’s mastery of balancing frills-free function with timeless construction.

In a classic Tokyo touch of old meets new, many products appear contemporary but are rooted in centuries-old Japanese crafts techniques, such as porcelain made in historical kilns and textiles hand-woven at generations-old workshops.

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz

Highlights of this high-rise menagerie include Spiral Garden, an art space that—as the name suggests—flows in a curved walkway around the interior of the building. Other must-visit spots include designer Akira Minagawa’s fashion brand minä perhonen store, “call,” on the fifth floor. The space, flooded with natural light, showcases a medley of global design finds (from ceramics to woodwork) alongside minä perhonen apparel and textiles.

It’s also home to an intimate café called ie no niwa, with pandemic-friendly outdoor as well as indoor seating, plus a small store packed with carefully sourced (and beautifully packaged) international and local food, treats, and natural wines.

In short, it’s the ultimate showcase for both the diversity of Japan’s creative retail scene—as well as its adaptation to the new normal, reflecting how shopping in Tokyo today remains as rewarding and unique as it is safe and comfortable.

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz (Art: ©Kishio Suga)
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Credit: David Jaskiewicz
(Art: “Supporting a Void”, ©Kishio Suga)
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Credit: David Jaskiewicz

Inhale—and exhale. It’s not all fast-paced in Tokyo, as reflected in one serene sanctuary hovering 37 floors above the ground in the Nihonbashi district: The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo.

Here, the peacefully luxe atmosphere feels a million miles from the urban flow of Tokyo as seen through walls of floor-to-ceiling windows: the toy-like cars at ground level, the sea of skyscrapers disappearing into the horizon and, on a clear day, Mount Fuji hovering in the distance.

Perhaps best of all, the spa is as safe as it is serene: there is a responsible medley of anti-COVID measures in place, from temperature checking to social distancing (even the pens used to fill out consultation forms are painstakingly sanitized).

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz
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Reminders about social distancing and temperature monitoring stations are common throughout the spa and hotel.

It’s one of countless once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can be savoured in comfort, style and the utmost safety across Tokyo, from exquisite Kabuki performances at the Kengo-Kuma-designed national theater in Ginza to traditional tea ceremony while kneeling on tatami in exclusive only-in-the-know spots such as The Koomon.

Inside the sleek modern spa at the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, it’s all about relaxation of the most luxurious variety, from the crystal amethyst steam room and sky view sauna in the Heat & Water experience to a plethora of deeply restorative treatments.

One particular scene-stealer is inspired by the city itself: Totally Tokyo-“Five” Journeys from Nihonbashi, a signature treatment that transports visitors on a sensory journey to mental and physical tranquility, using a seductive concoction of quintessentially Japanese elements such as green tea, pine, bamboo, and plum.

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz
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The unique shiatsu massage-based treatment is not only blissfully relaxing, it’s also firmly rooted in the area’s rich heritage. It was in Nihonbashi in the early 17th century that a shogun switched the capital from western Japan to east—and began creating a new city that would evolve into modern-day Tokyo.

As reflected in the treatment’s name, Nihonbashi was also where five major roads called the Gokaido began, connecting the new city to regional hubs and resulting in the area’s reputation as the starting point of Tokyo.

Anti-COVID measures go hand in hand with the luxury experience. The Mandarin Oriental’s global anti-coronavirus “We Care” program is also in place throughout the hotel, as reflected in limited elevator numbers and liberally placed hand sanitizers.

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Credit: David Jaskiewicz

It’s all part of a responsible commitment—echoed at countless luxury venues across Tokyo—to ensure that visitors can still enjoy the best of what this perpetually pioneering city has to offer.

From cloud-brushing skyscraper hotels and too-many-to-count internationally lauded restaurants to contemporary retail and luxury experiences, it’s clear that Tokyo remains a number one destination, not only in terms of style and quality but—perhaps most importantly as a new era of travel dawns—particularly when it comes to safety and comfort.

You deserve the Tokyo level of comfort. Learn more about how to enjoy a new normal trip in Tokyo.