It might say "washing powder" to you and me but OMO, Hoshino Resorts' newest brand, takes its unusual name from three Japanese words that describe what it's all about: "omotenashi" (Japanese-style hospitality that has long been Hoshino's specialty); "omoshiroi" (fun and interesting) and "omoigakenai" (unexpected).
"OMO looks like a friendly face," says Daisuke Ando, a staff member at OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka, which opened in May last year. Casual, offbeat and playful aren't words usually associated with the luxury hotel group which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. But, true to its name, OMO5 delights in the unexpected.
For instance, the sophisticated black street-level entrance says "high-end hotel" – until you catch the lift to reception on level 4 and emerge at a hostel-like space, complete with a chalkboard wall-map of the local area, a small library, some subway-handles dangling from the ceiling (just for fun) and a shop selling OMO-branded snacks, souvenirs and quirky alcoholic drinks such as sparkling sake and yoghurt liqueur.
The reception desk stands like an afterthought on the edge of a lobby – which is as inviting as a living room with its earthy fabrics, wooden tables and floor-to-ceiling windows – because guests check in electronically. English-speaking staff members hover nearby ready to help, but it's a simple process. Just scan your passport at the desk, confirm your booking details on the screen and wait for your keycard and breakfast voucher to pop out of a slot. It takes all of two minutes.
The stars of the OMO5 show, however, are its 123 Yagura rooms, on levels five to 13 of this new building, which don't just push the envelope in hotel design, they scrunch it up and start afresh. I'm in love with mine from the moment I pull open the door (unusually, the doors open outwards to maximise space inside).
After slipping off my shoes – the main living area has socks-only tatami mats – I pad across the slate-floored entrance hall, past the toilet and separate green-and-white "wet bathroom" (just close the door and splash with abandon). There's a bamboo stool to sit on while you shower (Japanese-style) before soaking in the deep bath. There's also a high shower head so you can wash standing up if you prefer – a thoughtful touch. It's nice to see soap, shampoo and conditioner provided in refillable pump bottles instead of little single-use ones. To reduce waste even further, and clutter, other toiletries such as moisturiser and shaving cream are available from a vending machine on level 5.
Japan's architects are masters of minimalism, and OMO5's rooms are proof. They might be only 19.3 square metres, but they feel surprisingly spacious, thanks to the high ceilings and clever space-saving features. Exposed timber frames serve as shelves, for instance, removing the need for cupboards. Useful items – a torch, a hairdryer, a do-not-disturb sign, two rolled-up towels in little cloth slings – swing from hooks and carabiners attached to the walls, visible but out of the way until needed. And beside the kettle are double-walled Bodum glasses suitable for hot or cold drinks so there's no need for cups as well, a lovely minimalist trick. I love that the light switches are labelled in English, with diagrams too, to show which is which. Why don't all hotels do this?
But it's the split-level layout by award-winning architect Tatsuro Sasaki, who also worked on Hoshino Resorts' luxury Hoshinoya Bali and Hoshinoya Tokyo properties, which makes this unlike any other hotel room I've stayed in. Designed to resemble a "yagura" or traditional guard tower, it has a queen-sized daybed/couch and directly above it a loft bed reached by a small flight of exquisitely crafted Japanese cypress stairs.
The daybed is a welcoming nook with comfy cushions, a throw rug, a wide window ledge (instead of a space-sucking coffee table) and a large window that reaches up beside the loft, too. You can't stand up in the loft, but it's spacious enough to kneel and has two large single mattresses and two duvets, Japanese-style. Going to bed that night feels like climbing into a fort or a cubby.
The light-coloured cypress details throughout give the room a Scandinavian feel – you could be forgiven for thinking the under-stair storage compartments came from a certain Swedish furniture store – and everything is beautifully finished.
As part of its ethos of connecting people, OMO5 has social activities that are also open to non-guests. I'm there for movie night so after a light dinner at eightdays cafe on the ground floor, I curl up on the lobby lounge to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's.
The next morning, I discover that breakfast at OMO5 is better than Audrey Hepburn's pastry and takeaway coffee, and more original: freshly made vol-au-vents with a choice of four savoury fillings served with yoghurt, tea and percolated coffee; espresso coffee is extra. There's also an American breakfast of bacon and eggs with bread, salad and yoghurt and Danish pastries are available for between ¥200 and ¥350 (less than $5). Vol-au-vents are on the lunch menu too, and the bar, which opens at 3pm, has snacks, cocktails and Hoshino's own craft beers Yona Yona and Tokyo Black on tap.
Because Otsuka isn't a well-known area, OMO5 has walking tours for its guests – with a twist. They're run by "rangers" dressed in Power Rangers colours, each representing a different theme. After breakfast I meet Daisuke who will guide me, dressed in his green polo shirt, on a free Green tour. As we stroll around this quietly hip neighbourhood, which has one of only two remaining trams in Tokyo, he points out cool restaurants and hole-in the-wall shops and bars I can visit later.
That evening I meet Daisuke again. He's now dressed in yellow for a "retro-Showa" food tour. Otsuka has more than 150 eating establishments, he says as we set off, and OMO's rangers take people to 20 of them on a regular basis. We visit two: an old-school tempura joint that's been run by the same couple for 48 years and a newly opened sake bar with just 13 seats giving us an opportunity to relax, eat, drink and chat to the owners. It's refreshing to see a big hotel group supporting local businesses like this and it's a win-win: the restaurants get customers who never would have found them otherwise, while guests get the chance to meet locals passionate about their neighbourhood and keeping its culture alive.
How to sum up OMO5? It's a design hotel that thinks it's a hostel, without the backpacker vibe. It's inexpensive by Tokyo standards, particularly for solo travellers, but doesn't feel like a budget hotel. It's stylish, yet relaxed. And it's fun – with a dash of five-star service.
For all these reasons and more, Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka is delightfully, unapologetically different, taking the urban hotel experience to a whole new level.
Qantas flies direct from Sydney to Tokyo Haneda daily and from Melbourne and Brisbane to Tokyo Narita daily. OMO5 is in Otsuka in northern Tokyo, on the Yamanote subway line. It can be reached in about an hour by train from Haneda or Narita. See qantas.com
OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka has 123 Yagura rooms starting at ¥7000 yen a person a night including Wi-Fi and breakfast; there's also one disabled-accessible Universal room. Pyjamas are ¥200 extra. Green tours are free while other tours cost ¥1000 plus food and drinks. There's also an OMO7 in Hokkaido; the numbers refer to their amenities. A third OMO will open in Osaka in 2022. See omo-hotels.com
Louise Southerden stayed at her own expense with flights by Tourism Shizuoka Japan.