Kampai! Japan's New Luxury Hotels: Mixing Old-School Hospitality with Modern Swank

Restaurant ZK at the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel, which is inside Japan’s tallest building. (Photo: Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel)

By Sara Pepitone

It’s minutes to sunrise in Osaka, where the country’s tallest building, the 984-foot Abeno Harukas, opened in March.

Guests of the Marriott Miyako Hotel (from $340), which occupies floors 38 to 55 of this skyscraper, await the express elevator to the top. It’s a perk of staying in one of the 376 rooms: exclusive, early (and free) entry to the glass-enclosed observation deck on the 60th floor. Even in imperfect weather you can see Kyoto, Kobe, and the Ikoma mountains.

Access, convenience and hospitality to the max is what Japanese hotels are all about. They call it omotenashi, and it exists across all classes. This isn’t a smile and a fancy bar of soap. This is escorting you to the bar in case you misunderstood the directions. This is hairbrushes, pajamas, and tea pots in every room. It’s the evolution of a system that began when people walked everywhere when they traveled and ryokans (inns) helped lessen the load on their backs.

The spa and pool at Andaz Tokyo.

And omotenashi is apparent in a mass of big brand hotels opening in key Japanese cities this year, many in neighborhoods more familiar to business folks than tourists. But typical business hotels these are not.

Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills (from $425) is also located in a new skyscraper — Tokyo’s second tallest: 810 feet. Opened in June, Japan’s first Andaz has 164 rooms with soaking tubs made from local stone and wood and soaring city views. Service is simple yet sophisticated, focusing on a guest’s personal style — a style best catered to by the customizing apothecaries at Andaz’s AO spa. Rinse off all their anti-aging magic in the spa’s 65-foot-long pool.

Related: Armchair Traveler: Japan

Similarly, Japan’s first Aman, aiming to open by fall, will be in Tokyo’s new Otemachi Tower, set in the financial district. Multiple restaurants, a pool and 84 rooms (44 of them suites) are planned.

Starting at $750 per night, the Kyoto Ritz Carlton is hardly cheap, but it rewards with traditional Japanese flourishes. (Photo: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company)

At the end of September, the 313-room Royal Park Hotel The Haneda (from $145) will open as the country’s first combined luxury and transit hotel (17 rooms for connecting passengers who don’t wish to go through immigration). Constructed as part of the recent expansion of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport International Terminal, it’s the fourth in the brand’s upscale “The” series. There will be a blend of Japanese aesthetic and tradition (appealing minimalist design) and western comforts (beds). Bonus: a “ladies floor” with additional cosmetics as part of the amenities.

If you can’t wait to experience this modern translation of omotenashi, head to The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto (from $750). The five-story, 134-room property — built to resemble the city’s traditional wooden townhouses — opened in February on the Kamogawa River. Guests have access to the spa’s indoor pool overlooking a rock garden.

Related: I Spent My 40th Birthday Alone in Japan and it Totally Rocked

The striking suites boast traditional tatami mats and futons, clothed in the same 600-thread count linens you’ll find on the beds. Sophisticated couples sip tea and wine in the stylish blond-wood Lobby Lounge while kimono-clad staff glide about, fulfilling every need.

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