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10 of the best boutique hotels in Tokyo

By e n j e r u - July 15, 2014

Whether you fancy old-time grandeur or the very best in modern design, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to looking for a boutique hotel in Tokyo, says Rebecca Milner

1. Imperial Hotel

Japan's first western-style hotel, opened in 1890 and rebuilt twice since, lays claim to a whole city block of prime real estate across from the landscaped grounds of the Imperial Palace. It remains the city's most prestigious hotel and the service is famously unparalleled. The grandeur is obvious as soon as you set foot in the cavernous lobby with its central staircase and an enormous chandelier that looks like an inverted wedding cake. The rooms are elegant but unfussy, done up in mahogany, scarlet and champagne. One lavish suite retains the romantic look of the building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1920s; unfortunately it's reserved for visiting royalty.
• 1-1-1 Uchisaiwai-cho, Chiyoda-ku, +81 3 3504 1111,. Doubles from around £310

2. Claska

Tokyo's original – and best – boutique hotel lies smack in the middle of the city's design district, in an affluent residential neighbourhood. It's a bit off the map, but with that comes a taste of Tokyo's quieter, more livable side. Opened in 2003 in what was then an ageing business hotel (the facade remains), the Claska has stunning Japanese modern rooms with crisp lines and a cool palette; some have private terraces, tatami floors or glass-cased bathrooms. There's a rooftop terrace and a hip lounge in the lobby that serves an excellent traditional Japanese breakfast; both are popular with locals, too.
• 1-3-18 Chuo-cho, Meguro-ku, +81 3 3719 8121, . Doubles from ¥19,950 (around £175)

3. Ryokan Sawanoya

Traditional ryokan are few and far between in Tokyo, which makes them a luxury. Here you'll find cosy futons, neat tatami mats, gracious service and a tea set laid out on the low wooden table awaiting your arrival. There are also two steaming hot baths, one made of cedar that looks out over the garden and the other ceramic, shaped like a bowl – a long soak is a Japanese experience not to be missed. The neighbourhood, Yanaka, is like an extension of the inn, with pre-war wooden buildings housing artisan studios, craft shops and cafes. The ryokan rents bicycles too, for only around £4.50 a week, which are perfect for exploring.
• 2-3-11 Yanaka, Taito-ku, +81 3 3822 2251, . Doubles from around £80, breakfast from around £3

4. Hotel Selyo Ginza

With cascades of marble and sprays of orchids, this Ginza hotel is an opulent, bubble-era time capsule. The spacious rooms are decorated to suggest largesse: huge beds with stacks of fluffy ruffled pillows, and Texas-sized bathrooms. There's even a 24-hour butler service, should you need someone to pack your bags or fetch you a whisky from the members' only bar. The Seiyo is pure Tokyo establishment: former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi has been known to visit the kaiseki restaurant here, where traditional multi-course dinners are served; and kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo worked on the design of the sushi restaurant.
 1-11-2 Ginza, Chuo-ku, +81 3 3535 1111, . Doubles from around £480

5. The Agnes Hotel and Apartements

The Tokyo art world is on intimate terms with this Kagurazaka hideaway. For five years it staged an exclusive art fair in its rooms (including special installations in the loos). Otherwise, the Agnes is so wonderfully off the radar that many taxi drivers don't know it. The rooms are comfortable, though not luxurious, awash in creams and beige, with cushy armchairs and spa baths. They're perfectly situated for exploring the cobblestone lanes of one of the city's hidden gems, a beguiling old neighbourhood once famous for its geishas and now for its cafes, art galleries and excellent restaurants. 
• 2-20-1 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, +81 3 3267 5505, . Doubles from around £235

6. Park Hyatt

The famed Shinjuku hotel (as seen in Lost in Translation) is a local institution. While celebrity spotting in the New York Grill & Bar on the 52nd floor is certainly possible, you're more likely to overhear a marriage proposal – it's a popular date spot. The hotel starts on the 41st floor (in a tower designed by Kenzo Tange, no less), so there's not a bad view in the house; often you can see all the way to Mount Fuji. Rooms, bigger than the average Tokyo apartment, are modern, with luxurious touches such as huge marble tubs and fluffy Egyptian cotton duvets. Perks include free mobile phone rental.
• 3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, +81 3 5322 1234,. Doubles from around £285

7. Shibuya Granbell Hotel

Instead of lording it over the city from a luxury high-rise, position yourself in the thick of things at this small boutique hotel in Shibuya. The bars, restaurants and clubs of this notoriously youthful neighbourhood will all be within walking distance. Appropriately for its location, the rooms are done in contemporary fashion, with plenty of angular lines, dark wood accents and, in the better ones, bright manga-esque curtains. All have comfy beds. It's worth upgrading to a premiere room for more space – you can also splurge on a suite with spiral staircase and city views from the bath.
• 15-17 Sakuragaoka-cho, Shibuya-ku, +81 3 5457 2681,. Doubles from around £190

8. Four Season at Chinzan-so

The location of the Four Seasons, in the northwest corner of the city, makes little sense until you realise that its lush, manicured grounds belonged to a 19th-century prince. Here you'll find stone lanterns and even a pagoda, all hundreds of years old; visit in the summer to catch the only fireflies in Tokyo. The rooms are fittingly princely, decorated in a lavish, almost over-the-top European rococo style with well-placed Asian accents (an antique Chinese vase here, a traditional Japanese cabinet there). Naturally, the best rooms look out over the gardens.
• 2-10-8 Sekiguchi, Bunkyo-ku, +81 3 3943 2222,. Doubles from around £375

9. Andon Ryokan

Tokyo's only contemporary ryokan has a facade of glass and louvred metal, for which it won an architecture prize. Illuminated at night, it's supposed to resemble an andon, a traditional lantern. The inn is also an excellent case study in space maximisation: rooms are tiny – just big enough to fit two futons – but there are shelves built into the window wells and TVs hidden in an alcove. The owner collects antiques, and 100-year-old crockery has been known to show up at the breakfast table. The Andon's location is off the beaten track, north of the touristy area of Asakusa and near the gates of what was once the Yoshiwara, the infamous Edo-era red-light district. 
• 2-34-10 Nihonzutsumi, Taito-ku, +81 3 3873 8611, . Doubles from around £65

10. Hotel Okura

Designed in 1962 by architect Yoshiro Taniguchi, this celebrated Japanese modern hotel sprawls in a way that wouldn't be possible today. Newer five-star competitors lodged on top of office towers boast that they have so many contemporary art pieces they are practically a museum, but the Okura actually has a museum. And a teahouse for tea ceremonies. And a Zen rock garden. Its neighbours are embassies, which makes it the go-to hotel for visiting diplomats. The decor is vintage modernism with Japanese touches; the aura sedate, refined. Strings of geometric lanterns dangle like earrings from the lobby ceiling; the elevators are gilded like Japanese screens. The rooms, naturally, are big.
• 2-10-4 Toranomon, Minato-ku, +81 3 3582 0111,. Doubles from around £285

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