Trunk lifts the lid on Tokyo’s evolving hospitality industry

by

Special To The Japan Times

There is a long list of reasons to visit Shibuya’s latest addition to its cityscape — from the craft cocktails served in its roomy lounge to the outdoor terrace with large white cushions and its architect-designed convenience store. Not to forget the pop-up space, four spacious event rooms, a kushiyaki (grilled skewered dishes) outlet and a wooden rooftop chapel.

With so much going on, it may be easy to forget that there is one other compelling reason to visit: checking in and going to sleep.

Trunk (Hotel), which recently opened its doors in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, is one of a string of new establishments in the capital that are transforming Japan’s traditional hospitality industry. Tokyo’s hotel scene has long been dominated by either salaryman-packed business hotels or high-end luxury five-star hotel chains, with little in between (love hotels aside).

Something, however, appears to be shifting. A growing number of new hotels are defying stereotypes by shunning Western-style hotel aesthetics for Japanese design and craftsmanship, offering more reasonable room rates and creating services and facilities that swap traditional hospitality concepts for the idea of a “third space.”

There is Wise Owl Hostels, whose two Tokyo establishments target both partygoers and families, fusing contemporary urban spaces with budget accommodation. Both hostels have high-quality memory foam mattresses in all bunks, while the Hatchobori branch even has a lively bar in its basement.

Meanwhile, Book and Bed Tokyo in Ikebukuro offers visitors the opportunity to sleep, quite literally, in a world of books, with its friendly space of wooden capsules hidden behind bookshelves by Suppose Design.

And now, there is Trunk (Hotel).

Located just seconds from fashion-hub Cat Street in Harajuku, the hotel, which opened in May, is housed in two adjacent four-story buildings designed by Mount Fuji Architects, complete with recycled wood and gray stone facades, tiered balconies and cascading greenery. Jamo Associates designed the interiors, including the lounge — an expansive and relaxing music-filled space of concrete floors and minimally abstract artworks, offering guests coffee and free Wi-Fi by day and craft cocktails after dark.

For those with sleep on the agenda, there are 15 guest rooms, each resembling that of a stylish urban apartment rather than a hotel, fitted with custom-crafted wooden furniture by Truck in Osaka, monochrome tiled bathrooms and a number of expansive wooden terraces filled with insect-repelling rosemary herbs.

Another key attraction are its four spacious and contemporary events spaces, which are likely to become fashion-industry favorites as well as a popular choice for wedding receptions (the reason for a clean-lined wooden chapel on the roof terrace).

For foodies, the flagship restaurant Trunk (Kitchen) serves a contemporary menu designed by Yuji Tani (of House restaurant in Nishi Azabu), with enticing dishes such as Shibuya Burrata cheese and pomegranates. Meawhile, Trunk (Kushi), a modern take on traditional grilled meat dishes, is housed in a cosy enclave near the hotel’s entrance.

The most relaxed spot, however, is the main terrace. The space, with a Zelkova tree at its center, is open to guests and locals alike and is home to a white Torafu Architects-designed convenience store filled with Tokyo-made food, drink and design products, as well as the hotel’s own branded Trunk range, including organic Japanese body products and monochrome T-shirts.

The “Made-in-Japan” theme is strong throughout — from the complimentary guest-room tins of Trunk candy made by historical Tokyo sweets company Sakuma to the surprisingly tasty Tokyo wine served in Trunk (Kushi) and made by Fujimaru Winery based in the Kiyosumi-Shirakawa district.

The establishment’s environmental imprint is another key concern, as reflected in countless details such as the recycled acrylic cloakroom keys, the dead-stock denim staff aprons and a fleet of renovated abandoned Tokyo bicycles.

For Hisao Koga, the general manager, key to Trunk (Hotel)’s concept is the fact that it does not fit easily into Tokyo’s existing hotel stereotypes and it aims to mark the beginning of a new era for the city’s hospitality scene.

“Trunk (Hotel) is neither luxury hotel nor business hotel,” he explains. “It is not just a design hotel or boutique hotel. It’s an unprecedented new concept-hotel, focusing on the ability for individuals to be able to realistically and easily make substantial social contributions through their daily lives.”

He adds: “Just like fashion or food, being able to choose a hotel according to your needs and preferences is becoming a must these days. Our goal is to become a ‘destination hotel’ where people come because we are here.”

There’s no doubting that any new hotel opening is a timely addition for Tokyo, which is currently suffering a widespread accommodation shortage in the run-up to the 2020 Olympic Games. The 2020 countdown has, needless to say, accelerated a flurry of developments — the most recent announcement being a luxury hotel, planned by Mori Trust and designed by Kengo Kuma, in the Ginza district.

Describing how the Olympics is fueling a significant shift in the city’s hotel world, Koga adds: “There will be more luxury and business hotels opening in the next couple years, and that will allow customers to choose according to their needs and preferences.

“As far as I am aware, there are quite a few interesting hostels, but not so many concept-driven boutique hotels planning to open before the Olympics — although there surely is a demand for that.”

Trunk (Hotel) has rooms from ¥27,000 (single) to ¥570,000 for the top suite (sleeping 14). For more information, visit trunk-hotel.com.