When the Keio train line built a 48-storey 1435-room hotel near its station in Shinjuku in 1971 it looked over fields, houses and a water treatment plant. Today Shinjuku is the high-rise 24-hour beating heart of Tokyo, but the newly-improved Keio Plaza Hotel still dominates.
The hotel has spent more than 10 billion yen ($A132 million) on improvements since 2000, but lovers of history will delight in a suite that, although modernised, remains a shine to its most famous 1976 guest: Muhammed Ali. Elsewhere, the new Universal rooms take accessible design to a whole new level. And the hotel has a Preferred Pride Package for the LGBT community. About 50 per cent of visitors are from overseas and an increasing number are Australian.
My Premier Grand room with a king bed is on Floor 39, one of the seven Club floors. At 35.5 square-metres it's spacious, especially for Tokyo, has bird's eye views over bustling Shinjuku and is both modern and stylish - the Club floors only opened in 2016. Room facilities are excellent: both kettle and capsule coffee, multi-channel large TV, everything controlled bedside, an iPad, plus dressing gowns and pyjamas. The bed is American, the sheets Italian, the toiletries L'Occitane and the towels from the renowned Imabari region.
The washbasin area is flanked by a toilet room on one side and a bathroom on the other. As you approach the toilet light comes on, the lid lifts welcomingly and it pre-flushes. The toilet controls are comprehensive (and in English) to control multi jets, their flow, direction and temperature. The bath space is simply perfect: it's well sealed so the freestanding shower can be pointed anywhere, including into the bath and the bath is just about deep enough for swimming lessons.
At 160 metres up, the exclusive Club Lounge offers startling views of the Gotham-like Tokyo Municipal Building next door. It's eclectic with 22 styles of seating and both western and Japanese artworks. It's also tranquil: green tea is available on request and phone silence is requested. A comprehensive buffet breakfast is served, there's afternoon tea and the bar opens from 5pm to 7pm with somewhat irritating precision. Don't seek a drink at 7.05pm but until then there's a range of wines, beers and sakes offered with snacks. The Lounge also provides check-in and concierge services.
The hotel has 11 restaurants and six bars. The distinctive main bar, Brillant [sic] features red brick walls, very comfortable chairs and an award-winning bartender. Amanogawa is a sake bar within the Kagari Japanese restaurant. For the complete Japanese dining experience Soujan Restaurant offers a range of kaiseki banquets. An indoor garden leads to traditional private dining rooms where staff in kimonos serve multiple, perfectly presented seasonal dishes. When the hotel built a tea ceremony room into its 10th floor, I wonder if it knew other hotels would send guests over for the experience? It's as much about cultural appreciation as it is about tea – but the strong caffeine hit is welcome, too.
Further west near Tokyo Stadium, Keio Plaza Hotel Tama is a short walk from Sanrio Puroland that is Hello Kitty central. Since June 2019 this hotel has six themed rooms, two each for Hello Kitty and her friends My Melody and Little Twin Stars. Everything, down to amenities kits and carpet is Hello Kitty and the restaurant serves Hello Kitty desserts and coffee. Favoured by couples, they are booked out months in advance.
Tokyo's busiest train station is just a short walk away so it's easy to connect to a train to anywhere. But whether it's shopping or truly unique nightlife, Shinjuku is the destination. The narrow laneways and tiny bars of Golden Gai are reminiscent of an earlier Tokyo and it's worth seeking a bar that welcomes foreigners in dingy, quaint "Piss Alley" or Omoide Yokocho. The hotel provides a smart phone (with free local and international calls) to help you get around.
For an easy stay in Tokyo with a spacious room, no language difficulties and a view to distant Mt Fuji, the Keio Plaza Hotel's Premium Grand hotel-within-a-hotel is a very good choice. It seamlessly merges tradition with technology.
Standard double room from $300; Premier Grand room from $580. Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo,2-2-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo 160-8330 Japan. Phone (+81) 3 3344 0111. www.keioplaza.com.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
Wave your room keycard in the lift and it automatically triggers your floor. Simple and effective.
The hotel's free high-speed Wi-Fi has an obscure two stage sign-in that eludes my phone throughout.
David McGonigal was a guest of Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo.