The Park Hyatt Tokyo was going to fail, or so everyone said.
It was hidden away atop three connected towers in the then unfashionable Shinjuku district, and made no particular effort to let anyone know it was there. Its unconventional vertical labyrinth was not reassuring. Worst of all it was run by foreigners who would never be able to provide service to Japanese standards.
But after a slow start in 1994 the hotel went on to become the most talked-about and successful in Tokyo, with occupancy rates as sky-high as its top-floor bar even before it received global publicity as the location for Sophia Coppola's 2003 Oscar-winning Lost In Translation. Its most eager repeat customers turned out to be fastidious local citizens -- many of whom could look down from their rooms at their homes far below.
Suddenly other Japanese developers wanted foreign hotel management companies to help them emulate the Park Hyatt's success, and after the inevitable delays caused by the search for locations and the time taken to thurst vast quantities of brick and steel into the sky, the Park Hyatt now has several tower-top competitors.
Lucky visitors looking to enjoy the world's most subtle and clairvoyant levels of service, while taking in vast views across Tokyo rooftops as far as Mt. Fuji, are now spoiled for choice.
The rush to send guests sky high has been led by Hong Kong-based groups already famous for running some of the world's finest hotels, but nevertheless adapting to local conditions. The Mandarin Oriental's discreet street entrance is merely the point at which guests are relieved of any need to worry about their baggage while they take a non-stop elevator to a top-floor reception bathed in light. Central Tokyo is spread out below.
From here a separate set of elevators provides access back down to 179 sizeable and large-windowed rooms on the 30th to 36th floors. Many a guest seeking a meal or access to street level presses the elevator down button before performing a mental screech of brakes and returning upwards to cross the lobby.
The Nihonbashi district far below — despite occupying some of the world's most expensive real estate — still has shops selling traditional crafts such as hand-made paper, fans and lacquerware that have been in their locations for centuries. The building housing the hotel itself belongs to a vast commercial conglomerate that began as a kimono manufacturer on this site four centuries ago.
The spa has a view; the fitness centre has a view; the restaurants all have views, and two of them have Michelin stars, to boot. At French-inspired Signature, neither the elegant couples smooching in the neighbouring jazz bar, nor the calm bustle of the open kitchen, nor even the views down to a city that twinkles like an inverted night sky can distract from chef Oliver Rodriguez's palate-pleasing menu and wine pairings that are simply oracular.