As I detailed in my recent review of Japan Airlines' first class (LINK), my partner and I took a trip to Southeast Asia to celebrate his attainment of an MBA. We left Chicago mid-afternoon and a little over 12 hours later we arrived in Tokyo's Narita airport with an overnight layover staring us down. We'd be flying out to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific from Tokyo's Haneda airport, so when researching our overnight I was looking for a hotel property that had three things:
Conveniently located on public transit from Narita and to Haneda,
A property that was highly rated and comfortable, and
Under $200 for the evening.
We settled on Intercontinental's The Strings property because it met all of these requirements. The hotel is located right next to Tokyo's Shinagawa train station, a major hub on the city's rail network. Visitors are able to take the Narita Express from Tokyo Narita airport directly to Shinagawa station with limited stops along the way. Shinagawa station is also on the Keikyu line which runs to Tokyo's Haneda airport. It was perfect for us - one train out of Narita to the hotel, one train out to Haneda the next morning. Easy peasy!
On the other two counts, we also had a winner. The Strings is rated the 10th best hotel in its area of Tokyo, and based on the pictures and reviews it seemed like a really good choice for us. It was a celebratory trip so I didn't want to do our usual routine of staying at a cheap capsule hotel or hostel. Only the the finest linens and fixtures for us! Oh, that'll cost $600 a night? Hmmm okay, maybe just moderately nice then? Oh, $160 a night? Deal and done.
Getting from Narita to the hotel worked just as expected - we hopped onto JR's Narita Express to Shinagawa, making it to our station with limited stops in under an hour. Once we exited the secured area of the station, we followed signage that directed us out of a specific exit. Once outside, we simply followed a raised walkway to the right for about 2-3 minutes before we found signage over a doorway indicating we'd reached the entrance of the hotel. There was a 7-11 right next to the entrance which made me a bit happy as easy access to inexpensive Japanese snacks and drinks is always a good thing.
The hotel occupies the higher floors inside the building, so from the ground level entrance near the train station you need to take one of two elevators up to the lobby level.
The button for the Intercontinental is clearly marked in both elevators and it's a quick ride up to where you need to check in. As you walk off the elevator and through a set of doors you're instantly enveloped by a sense of serenity and calm. The open atrium is filled with the light, dancing notes of a piano. Warm wood plays off the green of bamboo plants stretching out from the ground. The tinkle of trickling water fills the space left empty by the piano notes.
It's all very zen.
A woman with a luggage cart came over to meet us immediately upon entering the lobby and offered to place our bags on top of her cart and follow us to the check-in desks. Since we only had one piece of luggage each we declined her offer and made our way to the desk on our own. Zach had made the booking in his name for this stay so he ended up going to the desk on his own to start the process.
While the agent was working on checking us into our room another staff member brought out two cold towels for us, which we gladly used after the walk from the train station. I'm a pretty sweaty person so you'd make good money betting at just about any time of the day that I am in need of a towel. In typical Japanese fashion, the process was very orderly and efficient, though perhaps a bit cold. I got the feeling that this was a very austere property - atmospheric but lacking soul.
We were given the key to our room and hopped over to the internal elevators to access the rooms above. These elevators are only for room and lobby access, so you need to switch at the lobby level to access the other elevators to get out of the building.
We stepped into our room and found an entrance hallway with a hard wood floor in a dark hue. You will now notice that I was taking photos on a very old model iPhone and that the quality is pretty hit and miss when the lighting isn't great. You'll deal with it because you have no choice I suppose!
The layout of the room was pretty typical for most major hotels in the world - a small entry hallway with a closet, a bathroom off to the side, hallway dead ends at the living space with a bed, desk, and what not.
It was smaller than your average room, but that's not too surprising in Japan.
To the right just inside the door was a small closet. Inside was a pair of packaged white slippers (Japanese sized, so way too small for Zach, just fine for me) as well as the standard offering you find in most hotels - a safe, robes, iron, ironing board, and a flashlight. Hard wood hangers hung in a neat little cluster.
To the left was the entrance to the relatively small bathroom. Inside was a toilet with an electronic bidet attached. A scale sat next to a small waste bin. A pedestal sink with a frosted glass counter top attached filled most of the remainder of the space. A hair dryer sat inside a black bag near some outlets. One of the good things about visiting Japan is you generally don't need an adapter to make plugs fit into outlets if you have US plugs.
One of the nice things about some (not all) Japanese hotels is that they have built in defrosting mechanisms intheir mirrors. I tend to take very long showers so my mirrors are always fogged to hell, but in Japan I can usually start brushing my teeth and styling my hair immediately vs. turning on a hair dryer and trying to make a little sliver of visible space.
Bath products and amenities were from Agraria San Francisco, fairly common for the Intercontinental brand. Lemon Verbena worked for me because I favor citrus-scented anything. I associate citrus scents with cleanliness for some reason. Even all my personal fragrances of cologne on down to house cleaning products are almost universally citrus-scented.
Back out in the room a luggage rack, television, mini-fridge, and a full sized desk ran along the wall. I apologize for the clutter but as I mentioned, it wasn't a very big room and Zach isn't really concerned with neat hotel review pics after a 12 hour trans-Pacific flight.
A menu detailing the cost of items inside the mini-fridge (too expensive, absolutely not) as well as a coffee maker and some glasses.
A little box on top of the desk contained the coffee/tea cups and additional liquor options for purchase.
The bed was nestled into the corner of the room, a mix of grey, brown, and green hues/fabrics. While most single beds in hotels are king or queen sized, this one was a full size which made a tight fit for two full grown adult men, especially one that's 6'3". We made it work though, just an opportunity to cuddle a little closer.
The bed itself was pretty comfortable to me, though Zach was a little less than pleased with it. He tends to be quite critical of beds in general though. He hates our bed at home and it's our second bed to date. He was in charge of buying the current one though and still hates it, so take that for what it's worth. Unlike most Japanese (or Asian) beds in hotels, it wasn't all that firm but still slightly firmer than most hotels in the US. It was relatively low to the floor, very reminiscent of a platform bed.
Since the bed was in the corner only one nightstand was present, and consequently it was quite large and low to the ground. A full length mirror sat on top of it with a Japanese lantern-style light fixture sitting right on top. Right above the night stand was a built in alarm clock/radio in the extended headboard that covered the lower half of the wall behind the bed and the night stand.
Against the far wall was a small couch that fit perfectly into a nook with a window. A small table sat next to the couch with two complementary bottles of water, which is more than sufficient since tap water in Japan is completely potable. The curtains were excellent at blocking out light when completely shut, though if you needed a bit of light to stream through you could use the sheer blinds.
The view out of the window was partially obstructed by the building but what was showing was a nice view of the Shinagawa area and the train station below. It's one I really like.
So. In summary! Here's what's good about the hotel:
Excellent location if you're overnighting in Tokyo and departing from either airport.
Service standards are high and staff pride themselves on efficiency.
The room itself is actually quite comfortable and well laid out despite its small size.
Little things like the black out curtains and heated mirror in the bathroom add a nice sense of thoughtfulness to the room design.
And here's what I didn't like so much about the hotel:
It really isn't offering anything unique that sets it apart from other hotels in Tokyo.
While it might seem a bit odd, that's simply the truth - it was a good stay for us (and I've actually stayed here since this first stay as well) but there really isn't much here that sets it apart from other hotels in the city. Tokyo's public transit system is so in-depth that there are plenty of nexus points that allow you to access hotels easily from the airports. Japanese service standards are quite high so you're likely to get service you're happy with no matter where you stay. The same can be said for the comfort - even moderately priced Japanese business hotels provide a relatively high level of room comfort that matches what is available here while omitting some of the more luxurious options such as the mini-fridge or heated mirrors. But those upgrades aren't really vital to the experience - they're nice, not needed.
And to be quite honest, Shinagawa is a major transportation hub but it's not exactly the sexiest of Tokyo's neighborhoods. There are much better options if you're going to be staying in Tokyo long term vs. overnighting when it comes to food, culture, and sightseeing.
I'm obviously open to staying here again since I noted above that I actually have returned since our first trip, but it's not like I feel drawn to this particular property. I stayed here again because of its convenient location and the fact it was offering the best price out of all the options I was considering. If it weren't for the price point, I would have booked another hotel without any hesitation.
In summary - a solid offering that makes a good impression, just not an impression that makes you think of this hotel first when considering a stay in Tokyo.