A trip to Tokyo can be like taking a step into another world, a bombardment of unusual colours, unfamiliar sounds and unintelligible cultural clues. But what better way to begin to understand the city than by staying in a traditional ryokan, albeit one with a designer twist?
Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation in the Japanese capital. Step back in time at the Four Seasons, embrace modernity at the Claska or indulge in opulence at the Okura. Our favourite, however, is the Andon Ryokan, centrally located yet off the beaten tourist track to the north of the Asakusa district.
In an era when the traditional Ryokan, or guesthouse, is fading fast, the Andon Ryokan may have almost single-handedly reversed their fate. The designers have updated the concept whilst retaining the community essence of the original. Today’s example is a contemporary building with a glass and louvred metal façade that is illuminated to form the shape of an ‘andon’, or traditional lantern, once night falls over the city.
Unlike many of Tokyo’s grander offerings, rooms at the Andon are small and sympathetically but sparsely furnished in traditional Japanese style. Sleep takes place on a futon (the rooms are large enough for two), storage is built into the window wells, Tatami mats complement the minimal décor and entertainment comes in the form of wifi, DVD players and a TV hidden discretely in an alcove.
If you value your bathroom privacy, the Andon may not be for you. The rooms have no en-suite bathroom, sharing restrooms, shower rooms and sinks in the central area of each floor instead. For many, however, the distinctive communal Jacuzzi area more than makes up for the lack of privacy. Decorated with one-off painted ceramic tiles by the artist Mie Ishii, the Jacuzzi features designs that conjure up images and memories of the communal bath houses, or ‘Sento’, once attended by the majority of the Tokyo population in the days before family bathrooms. This striking setting invites you to relax, rejuvenate and remove yourself to a Japan of times gone by.
In keeping with the old-meets-new vibe, the Andon’s owner is a quirky antique collector who is as likely to serve up breakfast on 100 year-old crockery as he is on a plain Ikea-style platter. Mealtimes are a friendly affair, with plenty of camaraderie and story-swapping amongst the Ryokan’s mixed bag of guests. While there is plenty to discover on the streets of the city, the Andon itself offers plenty of opportunity for immersing yourself in Japanese culture. Relax in the Jacuzzi, enjoy a tea ceremony in traditional Japanese style or head to the roof for unbeatable views of Tokyo Tower and the distinctive skyline of Japan’s most cosmopolitan city.