Our Home Away from Home in Tokyo
Tokyo wasn’t on our original Grantourismo itinerary. From Venice we were set to head via London to Bangkok, but we cancelled our Thailand plans last month due to the crisis there. We’ve a strong connection to the country and couldn’t imagine doing a cooking course while Thais were dying on the streets. So we found ourselves in Tokyo instead.
Tokyo is the last place we would have thought to rent a holiday home, but now we’ve stayed in an apartment here we wouldn’t experience the city any other way.
Tokyo has an unfair reputation for being an expensive city, but as we’ve discovered, as long as you’re not paying US$300 a night for a hotel room, and you rent a place, it’s actually a very affordable destination.
Our latest ‘home away from home’ holiday rental is a smart little studio in Akasaka that goes for (are you sitting down?) just UK£90/US$130 night. I say ‘little’, because at 44 sq.m. it’s smaller than most of the places we’ve stayed at so far on our grand tour this year. But it’s actually very spacious and is by no means the closet-size space we expected to be staying in based on everything we’d heard and our own experience here (gulp) 17 years ago when we checked into a shoebox on a stopover.
Our ‘home’ is a red brick block that’s part-residential part-commercial and the neighbourhood is the same. The Tokyo Broadcasting Service building is just up the hill, so our street boasts a handful of video and audio production companies with residences and blocks of units in between. There’s a kid’s school on the corner, and in the tiny streets behind us, there are neat weatherboard houses tightly packed together, with bicycles parked out front and rows of shoes at the entrance, and leafy laneways in between. It’s as local as it gets.
Several shrines and tranquil gardens are close by. There’s a small neighbourhood park a few blocks away, and, closer still, a handful of cafés, grocery stores and cigarette shops – and while some Western expats live in the neighbourhood there’s not a tourist in sight. A ten-minute stroll in one direction is lively Akasaka, our local ’hood, and a 15-minute hike up the hill the other way, Roppongi Hills with its sleek shopping malls. We’ll tell you more about these in another post.
While the location is superb, the apartment has really charmed us. The owners, a classical musician and conductor, occasionally stay here, and so have thought of everything. Once again, we’ve found it’s the little things that make the difference.
At the entrance, where we remove our shoes, there are two pairs of linen slippers and two clear plastic umbrellas that seem to be the height of monsoon fashion here at the moment. There’s a spacious, open plan living and dining room with a white string curtain to give some privacy to the snug bedroom. The wooden furniture is chic, sleek and contemporary throughout.
In the bedroom there are side-tables, a bedside lamp, books to read such as Tokyo Style, and beautiful quality linen on the bed. Beside it, there’s an enormous walk-in wardrobe-cum-storage cupboard, where we could hide away our luggage – something I wish every place had.
The living room boasts a cool CD player on the wall, a small flat screen TV, a DVD player, and a basket full of movies, and there’s super-fast (and free!) internet access, plus heating and aircon. There’s a comfy futon-style sofa, a coffee table, and bookshelves crammed with fiction and non-fiction, guidebooks (from Wallpaper to Lonely Planet), dictionaries and phrase books, and magazines such as Conde Nast Traveller. Considerate details include pretty boxes that conceal things like toothpicks and a sewing case.
The kitchen is compact but large enough to cook in, with a good size fridge, a quality stove, plenty of pots and plans, crockery, glasses, and cutlery (including chopsticks), and a well stocked cupboard with pasta, tomato sauce, soy sauce, tea, coffee, sugar, and so on. A welcome basket greeted us that was overflowing with assorted Japanese snacks and crackers, and in the fridge we found milk, bread, eggs, butter, and, sake and beer, which we greatly appreciated after our long flight and, before that, two days of travelling by train from Venice via Paris to London!
The bathroom is much roomier than we’d imagined, with a separate washroom, toilet, and a wet room with bath and shower. The hi-tech toilet requires a lesson in how to use it (seriously), but has sensors in case you forget to press the right button. In the wet room there’s heating and a fan with a special setting for drying clothes (there’s a washing machine in the washroom) and giant bottles of Body Shop shower gel and Italian shampoo and conditioner. There’s also a cupboard full of toiletries, nice towels, and plenty of toilet paper (something we’ve learned not to take for granted!).
Our only real complaint is that there are no shutters, and the light streaming through the white blinds at 4.30am has done nothing for our out-of-whack body clocks and dreadful jet lag. If we were to be really picky, the television could be larger (and, trust us, you will want to watch some television while you’re in Tokyo – it’s amazing!), and while the compact size of the bed didn’t bother us, it might be a problem for some looking for king-size luxury.
While our apartment is larger than most Tokyo five-star hotel rooms and has far more amenities, if you need that king-size bed and a concierge, and want to stay at the Hyatt, keep in mind that rooms start at a cool £340/US$500 a night. In Tokyo, we’ll stick to an apartment rental and keep the change for eating and shopping. After all, this is one of the best cities in the world for both!