Organic Matter: Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo


Don’t let the words ‘concept hotel’ put you off. Mandarin Oriental Tokyo’s design ethos is less about the gimmick and more about the guest, and, like much of the city’s tourism appeal – which lies with the Sakura or cherry blossom festivals and the, lesser-known, autumnal leaf display – the hotel is all about the tree.

Led by Japanese textile designer Reiko Sudo, the hotel is inspired by the idea of a ‘living, organic tree’ but, rather than an overblown notion, this is subtlety executed. After all, this is a Mandarin property, a group known for its pared-back vision of hospitality. Drawing inspiration from the country’s abundance of forest (67% of Japan’s land is covered with woodland) and the fact that the country is surrounded by water – wood and water themes are the touchstone and are elegantly referenced throughout.

Towering like a giant oak over the city below, the hotel resides on the 30-38th floors of the Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower, in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi business district. Interestingly, while these days Nihonbashi is a bustling centre of commerce, the area is renowned for its age-old heritage and artisan craftsmen and women. While much of the district was destroyed in the war, wandering around the back streets will evoke a feel of what Tokyo would have been like in the Edo period, with many of the family-run shops, selling lacquerware, fans and confectionery, still existing.

As well as nature, this artisanal history is also called upon in the Mandarin. In the lobby, for instance, there’s a tapestry of roots carved out of metal, while many of the public areas boast beautiful textiles woven to recall visual streams – referencing the Japanese appreciation of water. Kyoto brocade artisans have made the walls of the elevator hall resemble the normally unseen rings of a tree, while the lifts themselves have been decorated to resemble falling rain. Spaces are layered with natural fabrics – some to resemble pampas fields – others inspired by kimono – all sourced by Sudo from a wide range of master artisans and weavers (she has also created some herself).

The overall feel is one of seamless sophistication – with a palette of golds, burnt oranges and reds blending with dark wood accents and flashes of pale bamboo flooring. Lighting in particular seems to be a focus – with handcrafted washi pendants in the bedrooms and oversized lantern-style shades in public areas that force your eyes skyward.

Bedrooms are simply styled with bamboo flooring, black lacquered boxes and huge windows, to make the most of the incomparable views. On a clear day, Mt Fuji can be spotted in the distance. Detailing is exquisite – drapes are made from textiles meant to conjure up water, so are soft and billowing, and ottomans are embroidered with delicate floral patterns. Beds are huge and lined with crisp sheets and delicately woven cushions and throws (be warned: you’ll want to take them home).

Every thought has been given to guests’ comfort, so you’ll find typical yukata kimono-style robes to wear at night, you can shower under a choice of three shower heads, or soak in a sunken marble bathtub (make sure you use the aromatherapy bath salts for a sensory touch). The loo is bemusingly hi-tech and gloriously heated, and there’s every conceivable beauty product for you to test out, courtesy of luxury brand Bottega Veneta.

The turndown service brings more delights. There’s fresh Sencha green tea served in a handcrafted tea-set, accompanied by traditional seasonal chestnut mocha. Or you might find a line-up of artisan chocolates described as a ‘jewel-box’, or carefully-wrapped jelly sweets left on your pillow – too pretty to eat. If you are suffering from jet lag (remember Tokyo is nine-hours ahead of the UK), then select from the extravagantly long pillow menu and breathe in the essential oil (specially blended by a local company to enhance sleep) that is left in a petite, china bowl each evening. The hallway-accessible service ‘closets’, meanwhile, are another genius touch, meaning room-service dishes and newspapers can be taken away or delivered without having to bother you.

While décor whispers elegance, it is the cuisine that shouts indulgence. With 12 restaurants to choose from, three with Michelin stars, the best place to start is on the 38th floor. Sushi Sora is the jewel in the crown – book well ahead – for it only seats eight around its 350-year-old Japanese cypress counter. If you thought the cinematic views were to die for, then just wait till you start watching the chefs craft their traditional ‘Edomae’ sushi (dating back to the Edo period, it gives an emphasis on simplicity and elegance).

The menu changes according to the seasons and depends on what catches are in that particular morning. You sit on black-leather seats at the bar, facing a dramatic stone-carved wall behind the chefs, accentuated by bonsai trees. There’s no music, just the trickling of a water swirling in a glass bowl, to focus the mind more on the taste sensation. And you don’t doubt why it is classed as one of the best sushi restaurants in the world.

Signature (found one floor down on the 37th level), serves modern French cuisine with the lightest of touches. For an extra special occasion, book the private dining room for ten – you’ll sit facing a floor-to-ceiling window which gives spectacular views across Tokyo Bay.

There’s Italian cuisine in K’Shiki (check out the Pizza Bar within the dining room), or dim sum in Sense, while Ventaglio serves a casual Mediterranean menu. For a classic tea ceremony head to Sense Tea Corner, while the Mandarin Bar is the perfect place for a sake, sipped to the dulcet tones of live jazz. The adventurous foodies, meanwhile, should book in advance for the Tapas Molecular Bar (it seats just eight). Over the course of two hours, chefs prepare a bite-sized gourmet tasting menu which explores the science of cuisine, blending haute cuisine with Japanese tastes: expect plenty of liquid nitrogen, your menu printed on a tape measure and your cutlery replaced instead by a box of tools.

After a day of exploring the city, retreat to the 37th floor spa. It’s the ultimate urban oasis – and also has those jawdropping views over the city skyline. There’s a vast menu of treatments on offer – the Revival on Arrival, a jet-lag therapy is ideal for those bamboozled by what day it is. Meanwhile, the Time Ritual ethos – which blends massage with aromatherapy – is consultative and places emphasis on each guest, rather than an ‘off-the-peg’ therapy, so you feel like you are getting a tailored treatment according to how you feel. Custom-blended oils are specially made for the hotel by Aromatherapy Associates and massage is adapted to your needs. It’s blissful.

Rates for Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo start from JPY 49,000 per room per night (approx. GBP 330). For more information or to make a booking, please call +81 03 3270 8800 or visit