Train stations usually hunker in uncertain, grubby neighbourhoods devoid of tourist sights, where you keep your hand over your wallet and your fight-or-flight adrenalin tingling. Certainly not in places to check into a hotel, in which you might imagine midnight commotions, chipped furniture and sad salesmen.
Japan is different, of course. Japan is always different. Tokyo Station is huge – more than 400,000 passengers daily – but spotless and safe. It sits in Marunouchi, a chic commercial district between station and palace. Newly appointed ambassadors alight at Tokyo Station and are clip-clopped by carriage to present their credentials to the emperor. The imperial family reputedly has a private passageway that leads from The Tokyo Station Hotel to railway platforms.
Not your average train station, then, nor station accommodation either. When The Tokyo Station Hotel was built in 1915, steam engines operated. Now you can step off a bullet train and check in within minutes, though you'll feel as if you're still in the era depicted in the hotel's old prints. They show ladies in crinolines or kimonos descending from railway carriages to admire Mt Fuji and Kyoto temples during the romantic age of upmarket rail journeys, when this exciting new technology made travel easy.
The Tokyo Station Hotel still captures that spirit. It's an Important Cultural Property with a European-inspired redbrick façade. The marble lobby is attended by staff in pillbox hats. The adjacent Lobby Lounge is permanently busy with well-dressed Japanese eating cakes and drinking perfumed tea as a musician caresses harp strings.
There are many delightful nods to the hotel's history, which you can learn more about from QR codes attached to framed old photographs, some of which depict the hotel's coffee shop which, when it opened in 1951, was the first in Japan. Notepads in rooms are made of square-covered Japanese manuscript paper in homage to the many notable writers who have stayed. Crime novelist Matsumoto Seicho's 1951 bestseller Points and Lines was partly written in room 2033. The train timetables that form its clues hang in the corridor.
The grandeur and elegance is still there, but the hotel doesn't feel old-fashioned. In 2006, it closed for a six-year renovation, with a British interior design firm preserving its Edwardian style but adding dollops of contemporary glamour. The hotel is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and has top-notch spa and fitness facilities, 10 restaurants and glass security doors that, with a swipe of your room key, slide sideways like those in the corridors of bullet trains.
Guestrooms still have chandeliers, but they're six-armed octopuses of glass and metal. Bedheads are padded leather, fabrics are pale green and purple. Floral wallpaper blossoms. Bathrooms are sumptuous, especially by cramped Japanese standards. An electronic gadget gives you access to free international calls and GPS-guided tourist information.
Step outside and Tokyo's buzz envelops you. The walls of the palace are glimpsed between glass skyscrapers. Thousands weave towards train platforms. Forget all you've heard about stations and station hotels. This is where you want to be.
Japan Airlines flies daily from Melbourne and Sydney to Tokyo Narita. Phone 1800 531 870, see jal.co.jp
The Tokyo Station Hotel is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Rooms from $635 per night. Phone 1800 219 010, see slh.com
A Japan Rail Pass makes getting around Japan easy. Rail Europe offers passes from $390 per adult. See greattrainjourneys.com.au
Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of Japan Airlines and Small Luxury Hotels of the World.