The vibe: Japanese hospitality with Italian flair
Location: 2 Chome-2-1 Yaesu, Chuo City, Tokyo | View on Google Maps
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The AFAR take
The business neighborhoods of Marunouchi, Yaesu, and Otemachi are home to Tokyo Station and some of the city’s top hotels—Aman Tokyo, the new Four Seasons Otemachi, Hoshinoya Tokyo, and the Palace Hotel to name a few. Even with this stiff competition, the 98-room Bulgari Hotel, which April 2023 on the top five floors of the glassy new 45-story Midtown Yaesu Tower, offers an exciting new expression of hospitality and design in Tokyo, where Japanese minimalism is juxtaposed with bursts of la dolce vita. Emerald-veined Italian marble sits next to ishi-doro (stone lanterns), and 1960s Italian musica leggera (light music) is piped into black slate hallways. Spartan ikebana floral arrangements are juxtaposed by black-and-white photos of Bulgari-clad Hollywood icons.
This is modern-day Tokyo and not old Japan, yet subtle design touches from the Milan-based studio of Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel, who designed the seven other Bulgari properties, bring in the right number of time-honored elements. Seigaiha-mon patterned wallpaper in the hallways riff on Zen gravel garden waves, while arches in the lobby are reminiscent of kato mado firelight windows often found in Zen temples. Coffered wood ceilings in the lounge reference Japan’s Shinto shrines. All of this is contrasted with glass displays that feature vintage gem-encrusted Bulgari brooches and necklaces, one in the shape of Mount Fuji.
Heavenly upper-floor outdoor areas, a rarity in Tokyo, are lined with lemon and yuzu trees and have views of Mount Fuji and Tokyo Tower—which are also on display from the fireplace lounge, the spa, pool, and restaurants. The rooftop bar’s interior is dominated by a glimmering mosaic wall of a tree filled with birds and fruits and conjures up an Eden-inspired atmosphere.
Who’s it for?
Design lovers, Japanophiles and Italophiles, and tranquility-seeking travelers who want quick and easy access to Tokyo Station but also appreciate the sanctuary-like setting in a notoriously busy locale.
To Tokyo first-timers, this neighborhood may feel sanitized and dominated by the bustle of businesspeople who have their offices here. But look more closely and you’ll find a fascinating mix of retail spaces and restaurants that draw all walks of life. The hotel hovers over the Shinkansen tracks of Tokyo Station in the new, glass-encased Midtown Yaesu Tower, home to several floors of yokocho, or corridors filled with shops, restaurants, izakaya pubs, galleries, bakeries, markets, and food stalls. It is also connected to the labyrinth of shops and restaurants spoking off of Tokyo Station, which include multifloor department stores Daimaru and Takashimaya—not to mention Uniqlo, Gu, and Muji. The moated Tokyo Imperial Palace, the sprawling residence of Japan’s imperial family built in 1888, is a 10-minute walk away. The shopping hub of Ginza is a 10-minute walk in the opposite direction.
Heavenly upper-floor outdoor areas, a rarity in Tokyo, are lined with lemon and yuzu trees and have views of Mount Fuji and Tokyo Tower.
Serene wood-floored hallways lead to the 98 guest rooms. The spacious accommodations start at 500 square feet, and they feature brushed elm wood floors, bone-colored walls, and large beds with tangerine-and-white fabric headboards. There are automatic blackout blinds for the enormous windows, saffron-hued loveseats and window-side chairs, desks from contemporary furniture maker Maxalto equipped with plugs and chargers, and gooseneck kettles. Textiles and materials come from notable Italian and Japanese manufacturers. The ceramic espresso cups are by Richard Ginori of Italy, the embroidered silk headboards from Kyoto-based Hosoo, and dark wood tables from Fukuoka-based Ritzwell. Bathrooms—cordoned off by sliding doors—are especially roomy, with oversize showers and deep soaking tubs, both made of matte black Japanese granite.
The food and drink
The hotel’s two restaurants, rooftop bar, chocolate shop, and fireplace lounge are all worthy of a visit, even for nonguests. My favorite was the eight-person omakase sushi counter, Hoseki, fittingly meaning jewel in Japanese. It leads to an internal garden with a twisted red pine tree, and the counter itself is crafted from one dramatic piece of blond hinoki wood. Hoseki is frequently booked out, which is no surprise given that it’s manned by Japanese chef Kenji Gyoten, who previously won three Michelin stars for Sushi Gyoten in Fukuoka. The restaurant’s 50-pound slabs of fat-marbled tuna are brought to the counter and carved in front of you into bite-size morsels. The chef’s seasonal selections might include firefly squid, sea urchin, and a parade of perfect nigiri including engawa (flounder fin) and horse mackerel. All of this can be paired with rare aged sakes from across Japan, served in individually handcrafted sake cups.
The airy lobby lounge is a popular spot for locals who want afternoon tea and sandwiches. The hotel’s Italian restaurant, Il Ristorante, where breakfast is also served, is headlined by chef Niko Romito, famous for his Michelin three-starred restaurant Reale in his native Abruzzo. Romito oversees the culinary program here and in five other Bulgari hotels. Expect pared-back pan-Italian classics like vitello tonnato, vegetable broth with champagne and olive oil drops, tortelli, linguine, polpette, and tiramisu. The bar is tranquil all day but picks up around 6 p.m., when a smart suited set arrives in search of glasses of pinot grigio, rare Italian aperitives, and cocktails with house-made bitters.
The pocket-size chocolate shop, Bulgari Dolci, serves pastry and cacao coin-shaped “gems” made with seasonal Italian and Japanese ingredients like Kyoto sake, Japanese chestnuts, bergamot, and aged balsamic vinegar.
Staff and service
Attentive but not intrusive. The cheery and youthful staff was intent on making sure my needs were met in ways that felt authentic, not cloying. A knowledgeable concierge was full of excellent izakaya recommendations that went beyond those found in most English-language restaurant guides.
Two rooms are specifically designed for travelers with disabilities and include handrails, bedside emergency buttons, and no steps.
A wellness sanctuary
A sunlit two-level spa is swathed in Burmese teak furnishings and gold-leaf ceilings and features nine treatment rooms, including a massive spa suite and two double treatment rooms. The many wet areas include a gold mosaic-coved thermal bath, soaking tubs, saunas, steam rooms, and a 15,000-square-foot lap pool. The pool is surrounded by white gauze-curtained cabanas and floor-to-ceiling glass windows, one of which leads to a large outdoor terrace with sun loungers. Products and treatments are designed by Dr. Augustinus Bader, a regenerative tissue specialist from Germany.