The Garden Sanctuary

The Japanese lifestyle lends itself to wellness with a love for gardens, healthy eating and onsen baths.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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"Nestled in a breathtaking garden, the famed Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo draws throngs of local and international travellers every season."

The low evening light accentuates the green oasis of the famed Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo in Bunkyo. It’s postcard-perfect every season, drawing visitors who are besotted by the awe-inspiring view of botanical species from cherry trees to camellia trees and plums that bloom beautifully in the cold of winter, reminiscent of snowy scenes on ink paintings.
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"The resort-like facilities include an indoor hot spring bath or Japanese onsen using water from Ito, a famous hot spring resort town."

Day 1

If dining in the garden conjures images of a tea house nestled in lush greenery, you’re not far from it. Mucha-an, one of Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo’s first-rate restaurants, is set in the little forest on the hotel’s grounds.

The walk to Mucha-an is scenic as one strolls through the Kabuki Gate along the Kanda River, before the cobbled steps lead you to the charming soba eatery.

Here, you’ll experience an authentic dining experience within the elegant confines of lovingly restored Muromachi period (1336-1573) interiors.

Known for its homemade soba, the culinary team at Mucha-an makes these noodles from stone-ground Japanese buckwheat flour that’s carefully selected every season.

Served in cold or warm broth, Mucha-an’s soba is chewy with a slight grainy texture, and served with spring onions, radish and wasabifilled dipping sauce.

Indeed, the eatery lives up to its name with a service that’s graceful, and a culinary standard that’s refined.

Its kaiseki-style course, which is a traditional multicourse Japanese dinner – akin to haute cuisine of the West – that promises a delightful journey of textures, colours and taste.

The multi-course is carefully presented to harmonise flavours. The misogrilled salmon is exemplary, and it needs nothing more than a sprinkle of sea salt.

Day 2

There’s something magical about Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, which dates back to the Meiji era, as guest services director Andre Sol narrates pieces of the hotel’s 700-year-old history. Being here feels surreal, especially in the gorgeous outdoors where the three-storey pagoda from the Muromachi period stands poignantly, or when you’re enveloped in the imposing shadow of a sacred tree believed to be 500 years old.

“It’s attractive here any time of year,” says Andre of the hotel’s famed garden that is populated with fireflies in the summer, covered in carmine leaves in autumn, and blanketed with snow during winter.

Spring is even more spectacular when a sea of pink cherry blossoms gives throngs of visitors more reason to celebrate.

He says: “People come to admire them in the day, and at night, after the food and drinks are served, everyone sits by the river and it’s a big party!”

We walk towards Le Jardin at the lobby lounge where the Shine Muscat grape-themed afternoon tea is served. The seasonal seedless green fruit adds natural sweet notes to an array of treats such as cream cheese tarts and jelly, served with dainty savouries and buttery scones.

At Yu, The Spa by L’Occitane, I visited the sauna before taking a dip in the indoor onsen. The spa’s menu features five luxurious facial and body treatments, using L’Occitane products with skinnourishing botanical extracts.

The Garden Secret Signature Treatment was specially created with inspiration from the hotel’s famed garden, featuring different treatment products in each season, highlighting the seasonal flowers.

The session begins with a gentle footbath, after which the therapist goes on to massage your neck, shoulder and upper back. The Shea Nourishing Comfort facial uses L’Occitane’s shea butter range (suitable for sensitive skin) for gentle cleansing and massage.

After the rejuvenating spa experience, it was time for dinner at Mokushundo, one of the hotel’s popular restaurants. It serves fresh meat and seafood grilled on lava rocks from Mount Fuji, so expect to relish the natural flavours of the fish, poultry, and vegetables. The restaurant features an open-kitchen concept where the service staff prepares the food before you.

Day 3

I’m in for a special treat at Zangetsu teahouse for the Tea Ceremony Experience. Zangetsu is a Registered Tangible Cultural Property in Japan, which means it is protected by the Japanese government due to its high historical or artistic value.

The tea ceremony is an art form that goes back more than 1,000 years. It’s not about drinking the tea, but rather, a ritual with precise and graceful movements presented in a careful sequence.

Ayumi Sanada, the hotel’s assistant director of marketing, guides us through the customary cleansing of the hands and mouth using a wooden ladle from the fountain. One also has to exercise the proper removal of footwear.

Dressed in kimonos, the tea master and her server soon enter the tatami room, holding fans as they take a bow.

Guests are then presented with delicate red bean cakes shaped like chrysanthemums, and the ceremony takes its course from there.

The tea master holds court with much grace, whisking the liquid until bubbles appear on the surface of the matcha. Before sipping the brew, one would bow and thank the host first, saying, “Otemae chodai itashimasu” (which means “thank you for making tea” in Japanese), then bowing to the tea cup.

Although Zangetsu’s tea ceremony is a crisp introduction, compared to a traditional ceremony that can take up to four hours, it presents an in-depth experience that details each process succinctly.

After the tea ceremony, lunch awaits at Il Teatro, which serves Italian cuisine in a classic Italian setting, complete with Venetian glass chandeliers and a forested garden backdrop. Here, the delectable dishes include Tomato Capellini, John Dory with Mint Gnocchi, Tiramisu and Cheesecake.

If you prefer Japanese fare, feast on the robust flavours at Miyuki, which serves traditional and modern Japanese cuisine in an elegant atmosphere. Sushi and teppanyaki are also served at the counters.

Day 4

I’m back for a special treatment on my last day at Yu, The Spa by L’Occitane to try out the 90-minute Shea Nurturing Treatment. It’s not just any treatment, but a plan that brings together four types of treatments into one experience, combining slow yet firm pressure strokes and hot stones to relieve stress and soothe overexerted muscles. Plus, oil gathered from the highly moisturising shea butter (shea oil) gives skin a smooth and healthy shine.

After four days at Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, I checked out feeling rejuvenated. The stay was truly experiential – certainly one for the senses, designed to draw city dwellers in search of health and relaxation, in a location where tranquillity imposes itself by the very nature of the landscape. Coupled with the cures of soothing onsen baths and luxurious spa treatments, it was a trip to remember.

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“It’s attractive here any time of the year. People come to admire the pink cherry blossoms in the day.”
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At Yu, The Spa by L’Occitane, you can chill out in the welcoming lounge area, then indulge in luxurious, rejuvenating treatments using L’Occitane products, before unwinding at the Garden Terrace.
My Reading Room

"The elegant decor at Yu, The Spa by L’Occitane makes you feel right at home while you enjoy its luxurious facial and body treatments."

It’s not just any treatment, but a plan that brings together four types of treatments into one.