By David Armstrong, Contributing Editor
The handsome Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, which opened its doors in 1952, was in recent years an Asian outpost of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, the upmarket Toronto-based group. That ended in late 2012, when the Chinzanso returned to Japanese management.
I hold Four Seasons in high regard, but reflagging the 5-star Chinzanso was culturally, almost poetically, fitting. The Chinzanso, where I spent a pleasant night in March 2015, is a very Japanese hotel.
It is discreet, understated, very different from the flashy hotels that dominate world cities – properties with bars staffed by “mixologists” (no mere bartenders!) who craft “signature” cocktails to the beat of “curated” playlists of throbbing dance/trance music.
The Chinzanso, while it inhabits a post-war building complete with a thrusting, 14-story tower, evokes an older, serene, nuanced style refined long ago in Japan.
Some of that has to do with the Chinzanso’s location, far removed from central Tokyo and bordering a historic botanical garden: the namesake Chinzanso Garden.
Happily, my room overlooked the garden, laid out in the late 19th century and once owned by a Prime Minister of Japan. Nearly 17 acres in size, Chinzanso Garden provides a hushed retreat in the thrumming Greater Tokyo megalopolis of 38 million people, the world’s largest.
Hundreds of trees, with leaves that change color with the seasons, grace this traditional Japanese garden, which features a waterfall, a stream, two ponds, traditional stone sculptures and an eye-pleasing, three-story pagoda built nearly 500 years ago on a hillside overlooking the greenery.
Winding walkways lead downhill to the garden from the ground floor of the hotel. The Kanda River flows past the walled public garden’s Kabuki-mon Gate.
The Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo is either beautifully located or terribly located, depending on what you want to do. It is about 30 minutes by train or taxi from the Marunouchi central business district, the Ginza shopping district and the Imperial Palace, in the Mejiro section of Tokyo’s northern Yamanote district.
This is inconvenient for some, especially leisure travelers and first-timers who want to be near the most-famous sightseeing spots. I was in Tokyo on business and for me the location was a refreshing change – not so far away from my appointments to be nettlesome, but far enough away to be restful. (Tokyo’s dependable Limousine Bus serves the hotel from both Tokyo Narita and Tokyo Haneda airports.)
My room was large by Tokyo standards. Hotel rooms there tend to be small (though that is changing with the entry over the past decade of high-profile, upmarket international brands).
I had a comfortable double bed, a small table set with welcoming fruit, crunchy snacks and tea, a couch by the picture-window. There was a desk and chair. Internet connectivity was good with a hotel-issued Wi-Fi password.
A hallway off the bedroom led to a vanity, places to stow luggage and hang and fold clothes and at hallway’s end, a pristine bathroom. In addition to its spaciousness, the bedroom was blessedly quiet, a real plus for a jet-lagged, noise-sensitive traveler.
All told, the hotel has 259 guest rooms and suites with garden or city views. Rooms range in size from 45-square-meter (484-square-foot) superior rooms to 55-square-meter (592-square-foot) deluxe rooms. The hotel’s 42 suites are, of course, even larger.
My travel-writing itinerary took me to sake joints and restaurants around town, so I didn’t eat in the hotel, save for a sumptuous, Western-style breakfast.
There are also Japanese breakfasts with standbys like congee, minced pickled vegetables and fish, and fluffy steamed white rice.
Breakfast is served in an expansive, ground-floor space overlooking the garden. The hotel has six Japanese restaurants, a French restaurant called Camellia and an Italian restaurant (Il Teatro) among its 12 dining options.
Like most posh, 5-star properties, the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo boasts a high-end spa. Yu, the Spa, nestled on the second floor of the hotel, uses hot spring water piped in from Shizuoka prefecture.
There is also a gym, a heated swimming pool with retractable roof and eight spa treatment rooms.
The Chinzanso does not neglect business travelers. It has 36 meeting spaces, including a ballroom with a 2,000-person capacity and an indoor amphitheater equipped with a 160-inch screen and 98 seats.
Private terraces off the meeting rooms are used for receptions. There is a third-floor business center with complimentary computers and printers.
When I was in residence, love was in bloom. Its quiet location and photo-ready garden make the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo a popular choice for weddings among Japanese couples.
Wedding parties, with their beautiful brides and handsome grooms, were much in evidence, especially on outdoor terraces and in the garden, as the weather was fine when I was there.
I can only imagine how many nuptials were celebrated when the cherry blossoms (sakura) bloomed, which they did a week after my visit.
The Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo is located at 10-8 Sekiguchi 2-Chome, Bunkyo-Ku, Tokyo 112-8680, Japan. For more information and to book, call 81-3-3943-1111 or visit http://hotel-chinzanso-tokyo.jp/. Room rates start at $275 per night.
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others.