Japan is a country of many superlatives. Even with one of the highest population densities in the world (especially in Tokyo), Japan consists of some of the most polite people you’ve ever encountered, the most stylish men you could ever hope to meet, the most demanding clients for bespoke services that you can imagine, along with several of the most luxurious hotel properties in the world.
For a Westerner, landing in Japan is like discovering a whole new world…and what a world!
Staying in exclusive hotels and ryokans (traditional Japanese guest houses) in Japan redefines the notion of high-standard luxury and makes it difficult to return to the idea of a standard 5-star hotel. This is not to say that Japan has the best hotels in the world. There are many particularly fine properties throughout the world such as the Four Seasons George V in Paris, the Four Seasons Park Lane in London, the Mandarin Oriental in NYC, the Park Hyatt in Milan, and the Aman resorts, among others. However, the overall experience at certain Japanese properties can be a surprising and even breathtaking.
One of the most important aspects to consider when choosing where to stay when setting foot in a new city is location first, and then again location.
The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo
The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo occupies the 30-36th Floors of a building in Nihonbashi (close to Tokyo Central Station). The hotel is within a 15 minute walk from both the Imperial Palace and the luxury shopping district of Ginza. Considering that Tokyo is a vast city, the Mandarin’s location is as central as it gets.
The reception and lobby are located on the 33rd floor, already providing a beautiful view over Tokyo, not to mention that in the summer months, the lobby is an incredible sightseeing spot for watching a spectacular sunset over Mount Fuji. Having tea and observing such a miracle of nature makes the Scarlett Johansson scene in Lost In Translation of her basking in her Park Hyatt Tokyo suite and gazing at the night view of the Tokyo skyline…quite pointless (save Scarlett, whose presence for ‘teatime at sunset’ would be greatly appreciated).
The lobby itself is designed and decorated with exquisite taste. There is a “wood and water” interior thematic which transforms the area into a kind of oasis of zen-like calm within a city that truly. never. sleeps.
Check-in is a breeze, and the staff speaks perfect French as well as fairly good English, which can be a rare luxury in Japan.
Being escorted to the 35th floor to the Mandarin Suite confirms the first impression of a hotel that has a delicate interior design. The suite consists of a lavishly furnished living area with a desk, a plush couch, lounge chairs and floor to ceiling windows with views of the city skyline. A more comfortable bed would be difficult to imagine, especially when the bed is topped with the softest of linens. Nothing is missing : even the desk is full of stationery goods and has most all types of connection plugs (USB, VGA, HDMI, MIC and AC power plugs).
Fulfilling any wish at any time of the day or night is engraved into the DNA of the Mandarin Oriental’s staff; whether you desire a delicious sushi set or a banana split at 2:00 AM to kill your hunger after a night-out…Press the room service button and 20 minutes later, hunger is no longer an issue, and sleep comes easily in a perfectly plush, inviting king bed.
Rise and shine.
What to wear :
*Cotton and linen bespoke shirt by Lucca (a confidential Parisian bespoke shirt-maker),
* Mid-grey Fresco trousers by Husbands Paris (a very little Parisian house that is currently gaining some worldwide recognition),
* Blue suede tassel loafers by Edward Green and invisible socks by Falke, which gives the sockless look, but at the same time the comfort of wearing socks.
A visit of the Meiji shrine awaits, followed by a massive investigation of Tokyo’s elegant menswear options, but more on that later.
First, a buffet breakfast with à la carte service ensures that the body’s energy is sustained for the long day of exploration ahead, especially with a weather forecast of a sultry 35°C.
I’m thinking French crepes, not pancakes, with sliced bananas and berries, covered with chocolate sauce: OK, it’s not on the menu but no other culinary idea other than this is coming into my head this morning, so I take the liberty to ask if my suggestion is doable…“Certainly Sir, we will make this for you”. It’s as if the word “No” is not an option at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo. Fresh orange juice, earl grey tea, a fruit salad and yoghurt will complete the morning meal.
Day 1 of my sartorial exploration begins. (A complete report of my journey is detailed below).
The city of Tokyo is vast. The metro service is extraordinarily efficient to the point that an announcement tells you how many meters you have to walk to change route lines or to the exit.
Upon arrival at the street level of the hotel building, arms full of shopping bags, a hotel bellboy runs to help and takes all packages up to the room. The staff does not even accept tips unless you insist very much, in which case they might accept out of courtesy to you. At least 10 km of walking today and the loafers are showing signs of distress; an overnight shoe shine service will heal them in no time.
To relax and heal the body, luckily the hotel has one of the best spas in the city and a spa treatment seems well-indicated: A 90 minute aromatherapy massage with products by Aromatherapy Associates (products which Mandarin Oriental recurring guests know all-too-well) ensues with dimmed lights, heavenly music, and a discreet and skillful therapist….at this point, half asleep on the spa bed, the mind and body tells you that that this is what heaven must feel like.
A reservation has been made at “Sense”, the hotel’s Cantonese restaurant. What a feast! Poached prawn with jellyfish appetizers, sautéed king crab with leek and ginger, poached sliced Ishigaki Star Grouper with Chinese matrimony vine fruit sauce, sautéed premier Meisyanton Pork with black pepper honey sauce and finally a coconut mousse with mango coconut cream. My taste buds have been thoroughly tantalized–and now the evening is complete.
What To Do
• Select and book the “Suite Temptations Deal” from The Mandarin Oriental (pay for 2 nights, stay 3 nights.)
• Have afternoon tea–complete with a view of the sunset over Mount Fuji during the warmer months of the year.
• Book a spa treatment in one of the world’s 25 best spas, according to the CN Traveler.
• Book dinner at “Sense”, the hotel’s Cantonese restaurant.
• If time allows, arrange a Shinkansen rail trip to visit the Izu Peninsula and stay over a day or two at the Arcana Izu, a wonderfully unique and small resort in the heart of the forest. Request a suite that has a balcony on the river with an outdoor Jacuzzi. But shhh… don’t tell too many people and enjoy the calm… it’s a paradise.
Rooms start at 400 EUR a night, Suites start at 900 EUR.
When to go
A New Year’s Eve visit leaves an excellent impression, as most Tokyo inhabitants tend to leave the city to go back to their family in the countryside and there are fewer tourists in Tokyo than usual during this time. As an example of the type of weather to expect, this year’s winter had decent temperatures ranging from 7 to 15 degrees. A spring visit to Tokyo is a must, with blankets of cherry blossoms in full bloom covering the trees. For the nature lover, a short trip to Kyoto and Nara will be nonnegotiable.
What to wear
• Summer tends to be hot in Japan. Opt for lightweight fabrics with an open weave. Winning keywords include mohair, Fresco, zephyr, cotton voile and linen.
• Winter, on the other hand, can be rather chilly, especially in Northern Japan, including Tokyo. Flannel and cashmere will be your best friends. Don’t hesitate to layer clothing; A burgundy cashmere turtleneck by Loro Piana underneath a wool and flannel suit by Ring Jacket, black brogues by Edward Green and a wool and cashmere polo coat is one promising option for an ensemble.
Other inspirations, courtesy of Loro Piana and Brunello Cuccinelli :
Other hotels recommended in Tokyo:
• Park Hyatt Tokyo for Lost in Translation fans, though the hotel is not exactly located in a practical location for those who like to have their destinations within a walking distance.
• Ritz Carlton.
• Peninsula Tokyo.
• Capitol Hotel Tokyu: Charming and offers a great mix of traditional and modern furniture, very well situated and with 3 metro lines directly accessible with the hotel lift. Great rooms with space of 490 sq. ft. (45m²).
• Aman Tokyo: not open yet but will certainly be one of the finest properties of the Capital.
Chronicles of a Sartorial Detective in Tokyo
After spending a week in Tokyo over New Year’s Eve and touring several men’s stores, the trip left a few strong impressions.
Where to start? To put it bluntly, Tokyo could be the closest thing to heaven for the sartorial-inclined man with a relatively fit body, as suits are made to fit the Japanese man’s morphology.
However, finding a size EU 44 is not an easy feat, but it is important to accept that acquiring a great suit that truly fits correctly takes some effort…along with a bit of blood, sweat and tears at times.
The interesting thing about the selection of suits, jackets, shirts, ties, and accessories in Tokyo is that the sheer variety of choices can be overwhelming at first. But once you get used to all of the options, Tokyo becomes a playground of possibilities.
STORE VISITS AND IMPRESSIONS
Ring Jacket, Aoyama
A cool shop with a very good selection, as advertised by the Armoury.
With the strong EUR / JPY currency exchange, the price advantage for buying a suit definitely goes to Tokyo over Europe. As illustrated below, RJ suits are well designed with exemplary cuts. The sales force is also quite stylish, as is reflected by their popular Ring Jacket Tumblr accounts.
But, if it is true that the Italians tend to wear their pants a bit short, then Japanese chic hipsters (including the Ring Jacket staff) wear them à-la-Thom-Browne, which is to say…mid-calf. An amusing side story: During a Tom Ford interview in the recent Esquire “Big Black Book”, Ford admits to sending an employee home after seeing him arrive at work donning a pair of these calf-bearing trousers.
While I like this store a lot, I admit that I’m not a personal fan of their Waffle Jacket line, simply because the fabric designs are a little too progressive for my traditional taste. But, as you see here, the suits are quite strapping:
Wow wow wow. If you think le Bon Marché in Paris and Selfridges and Harrods in London have decent offerings for menswear, then have a look around, because “It’s very cool, Bateman, but that’s nothing. Look at this.” (American Psycho).
Try Isetan in Shinjuku and your mind will be blown to pieces.
Isetan has pretty much everything ranging from RTW by Ring Jacket, Lardini, LBM, Cantarelli, Sartoria Formosa, Caruso, Isaia, to MTM programs by five different houses including Liverano & Liverano. The sartorial junkie could easily spend six figures here. There are cashmere overcoats, unlined wool coats, suits, sport coats, shirts, vintage fabrics, and trousers in all colors imaginable. Just. Everything.
The service at Isetan is quite good–polite and knowledgeable. Speaking a little bit of Japanese will help to find better deals, but even with the slight language deficit of the staff, they try their utmost to be accommodating.
What a great range you will find here, including Barba, Edward Green, Alden, Lardini, LBM and other such brands! However, this great selection costs roughly 20 percent more than the same products in Europe, which makes shopping here overall uninteresting, other than for window shopping for inspiration.
Beams (Ginza + Shinjuku + Marunouchi + other locations)
Beams is the perennial cool destination…a concept store with different price ranges and (most of the time) a completely different selection from one store to the next.
There are at least ten Beams stores in Tokyo. Some locations have semi-fused suits (but decent looking for the cost-conscious consumer, at prices ranging from 300 euros, all the way down to 180 euros on sale). The casual menswear and bags are also worth a look. Here, you will find Barracuta, a lot of Harris Tweed, and some tempting Aran chunky knitted pullovers, wool ties, as well as Alden shoes.
Beams definitely ranks among my top three places to visit in Tokyo.
United Arrows (Ginza–The Sovereign House store), Marunouchi, and other locations
Another favorite. Similar to Beams in selection, here you will find Cesare Attolini, Liverano & Liverano RTW, Incotex, Salvatore Piccolo shirts, and incredible looking coats. Pricing is reasonable yet it is worth noting that the Sovereign House provides some particularly high-end merchandise, albeit at times with a slightly higher price-point than other Tokyo locations.
You can lose your head here, so you may want to lower your credit card limit before stepping foot into this store.
Ships : casual menswear
Casual menswear…not bad at all! At Ships you can find items with good styling that are reasonably priced. Some suit and coat cuts can be a bit odd, so some discerning browsing is in order if you decide to visit.
Second Hand Stores : Komehyo and Daikokuya
Komehyo and Daikokuya (and several other random second hand stores–if you like bags and wallets.)
For all the French brands in stock (like Vuitton and Hermès), it is difficult to find a good deal nowadays at these locations. Prices have significantly risen compared to when I visited here three years ago.
But buying clothing at Komehyo can be a completely different story.
Komehyo often has amazing deals, such as Cifonelli 2013 sport coats at 250 euros and Isaia cashmere sport coats at a mere 300 euros! Some brands sell at a very high price (Hermès, Vuitton, Edward Green, Alden, Kiton, Sartorio, Brioni, Cesare Attolini) while other brands like Caruso, Isaia, Belvest and Ring Jacket can be found at bargain prices.
My final word on Tokyo is a resounding YES. It’s definitely worth the trip to experience incredible hotel accommodations with unparalleled service and to find a true suiting wonderland for scoring some timeless sartorial pieces.
Paul Lux – http://paul-lux.tumblr.com