Sunday, 5 June 2011

Review: Andon Ryokan, Tokyo


ANDON RYOKAN
2-34-10 Nihonzutsumi Taito, Tokyo,
Japan, 111-0021
TEL: +81-3-3873-8611
www.andon.co.jp
All images: Andon Ryokan

The Andon Ryokan is an inexpensive yet unusual hotel in Taito, Tokyo. Hidden in a quiet residential street just a short walk from Minowa Station the innovative and modern Andon Ryokan is instantly recognisable amongst the hotchpotch of modern concrete towers and old-fashioned wooden structures that surround it. Conceived from the idea of creating traditional Japanese features in modern materials, the hotel was designed by architect Irie Masayuki and featured in a 2005 Architectural Institute of Japan journal. An opaque glass facade, representative of shoji screens, covers the front of the building while metal panels and louvres replace a traditional wooden framework. Just like the paper lantern that the ryokan takes its name from the whole hotel is illuminated at night as guest room lights shine through the translucent green glass. Inside the hotel's sleek black walls, narrow
corridors and concrete floors border on the industrial but are interrupted by alcoves filled with brightly coloured Japanese antiques. In keeping with the traditions that run through this very modern ryokan, shoes are left at the door when you enter your room and tucked under a lacquered wooden step. At around 7m² and just enough space for a double futon on the tatami floor the rooms are tiny and basic. However, like the rest of the hotel, they are cleverly designed. An alcove at one end provides enough room to store clothes and bags, a TV, DVD player and a small fold-up table while, at the opposite end, a recess filled with a floor length window and sliding perforated metal screen provides further storage and creates the effect of a traditional tokonoma. Bathrooms are shared and are situated on each floor along with a sink and an area for separating recyclable rubbish. If you need a more relaxing bath time experience after a day of exploring the busy streets of Tokyo, the Andon has its version of the onsen, a jacuzzi bath on the 5th floor that can be reserved and used privately. Downstairs, on the ground floor, breakfast is served from the compact, open-plan kitchen. On hazy summer mornings you can sit outside in the tiny courtyard squeezed between the hotel and the neighbouring building and enjoy scrambled eggs on toast as you contemplate the day ahead. Though, on paper, the Andon Ryokan may sound like an unattractive prospect there is something enchanting about its narrow landings lined with the black wooden doors of the guest rooms, the subtle lighting from floor-level bulbs and narrow windows and the compact rooms. If the outside is designed to look like a paper lantern the interior of the Andon Ryokan feels like the inside of an intricate lacquered box filled with secret compartments and hidden treasures.

The area of Taito, where the Andon Ryokan is situated, is unremarkable in terms of sightseeing and major attractions. It is, however, a homely residential area that provides a glimpse of everyday life in Tokyo. The walk from Minowa Station to the hotel takes you along pavements lined with resident's bikes and past tiny local bars,  restaurants and a taxi rank. A little further afield is a small shopping centre filled with housewives, a good-sized supermarket, several restaurants and a branch of the Sankus convenience store. During a stay here in July, a few years ago, I really enjoyed the walk back to the hotel every night through what became a familiar neighbourhood. We saw few tourists or westerners, just the local residents going about their lives. This isn't to say that we were far away from livelier or more popular areas of the city. Asakusa and Ueno are a 30 minute walk away and Minowa Station allows easy access to everywhere else.

My final word of advice is, if you're looking for somewhere cheap to stay in Tokyo, you could do a lot worse. The rooms may be tiny but they are comfortable and well-equipped, and where else could you enjoy such innovative, modern design at such a reasonable price?

NB. It is a good idea to request a room that isn't on the ground floor.  On our first stay here we were woken every morning by the sound of other residents going up and down the stairs and milling around in the lounge. On our second visit, our room on the 3rd floor was much quieter.

Price: 8190 yen per room.
Online reservation.
English language website.
English-speaking staff.
Breakfast available.
Shared bathrooms.
Internet access.



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