The Sakura Hotel — Ikebukuro (Tokyo)

A    G o o d   &   Q u i r k y   P l a c e   t o   R o u g h   I t   i n   T o k y o

Sakura Hotel Cafe. Ikebukuro District, Tokyo. August 2011.

So I got onto Twitter a year or so ago, just for a lark and to promote this site/blog.  Sometime around six or so months ago I ran across and begin following the “Tweets” of  @ikebukuro_hotel, a hotel/motel/hostel in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro District.  The actual name of the hotel (I’ll call it a hotel) is the “Sakura.”  It’s rather inexpensive (see below), as Tokyo hotels go.  Besides that, it has an eager quirkiness to it that I found interesting and engaging (see the poem at the end of this piece, composed only of Sakura Hotel Tweets).  I like nice hotels.  I like quirky ones, too.  So, when I had a chance to check it out in person, I took it.

Guests from China. Sakura Cafe, Ikebukuro. August 2011.

From July 30 through August 15 I was in Japan on business.  The first week I was there — in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka — I shepherded a couple of corporate officers, executives from a client company, from meeting to meeting.  After that project was done, and over the next eight or so days, I was on my own to focus on other business and projects.  As these other clients that weren’t footing my hotel and transportation bill(s), I decided on staying at the Sakura in Tokyo for a few days.

First,  Let’s Compare

This was my room at the Westin Miyako in Kyoto, and from my small balcony this was the view looking east, and the view looking north.  It was magnificent (except for the exterior, which assaults the eyes of all who see it, not to mention the Kyoto skyline; an architectural abomination).  And the Westin Miyako  cost ¥21,700 (about $285) a night.  By comparison, this was my room at the Sakura Hotel in Tokyo, which defined “no frills” and “austerity.”  It was monastic, in fact.  The bathroom was quite small, too, but exceptionally clean, as would be expected.   This was the view from my window, which was somewhat different from the Westin Miyako view.  The Sakura set me back ¥6,800 (about $89) a night (for you who are mathematically-challenged, the Westin Miyako was more than three times the price of the Sakura).

Approaching at night from the Ikeburo Station side. August 2011.

There are “Business Hotels” that provide better rooms for comparable prices (see, e.g., in this piece of mine, Hotels,from about a year-and-a-half ago).  The Sakura, though, provides the experience of roughing it in a Casablanca-esque atmosphere (but without the tuxedos, gambling room, champagne cocktails, full orchestra or Nazis) and includes grad students, families, older couples on budgets, backpackers, a few businesspeople (but not many), and a wide assortment of non-stogy people from around the world are all thrown-in together and mingle with a happy informality.  I’ve never experienced this in “Business Hotels,” let alone in the 5-Star kind where I’ve stayed in from Atlanta to Houston to New York to Osaka to Beijing to Mumbai —  is worth three nights on a bed that is almost as soft as a piece of plywood.  Not that people are rude in 5-Stars, but there’s certainly less general friendliness.

The Sakura is not where I would book myself and clients to stay during a Tokyo business trip.  During my first week in Japan in August I was with a couple of officers of a corporate client and I booked rooms at the medium-end Business Hotel, the “Daiichi Hotel Annex.”  But when I was on my own for a week I had no need to look out for the comfort of my executive charges.

.                .                .

I apologize for the blurriness of the next two pics, snapped quickly & casually with my phone, but without much thought:

Not the kind of sign you’d see at the Imperial or New Otani Front Desk. Sakura Hotel. August 6, 2011.

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In the Elevator. Along with signs for an upcoming “Fiesta.” Sakura Hotel. August 2011.

.               .               .

The Personal Touch

In the course of making and confirming my reservations at Sakura I struck-up an e-correspondence with one of the desk clerks, Ken.  Cultural note and coincidence the guy’s name, “Ken,” is a real Japanese name.  Sometimes just “Ken,” and sometimes short for Kenji or Ken’ichi.  At any rate Ken is from Kyoto.  As it turned out his family trade, going back generations, was in kimono design and manufacturing, a Kyoto specialty.  The morning after I checked-in Ken was working the front desk.  I gave him some little gift of some sort or another and later that day he gave me a set of stencils from his great-grandparents’ era, 100 or more years ago.  The stencils were used for designing patterns on Han-Eri (半衿), delicate collars sewn round the neckline of kimono underrobes.  I was moved by this gift, but Ken assured me that he had hundreds and hundreds.  Nevertheless, it was extremely kind and not the sort of thing a desk clerk or concierge at the Westin Miyako, or New Otani, or Imperial Hotel or other 5-Stars I’ve stayed at, would ever think to do.   Here are photos of several of the Han-Eri stencils Ken gave to me —

1. 100 Year Old Stencil for Kyoto “Han Eri” (Kimono Collar).

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2. 100 Year Old Stencil for Kyoto “Han Eri” (Kimono Collar).

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3. 100 Year Old Stencil for Kyoto “Han Eri” (Kimono Collar).

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G A L L E R Y:  Around Ikebukuro

All Snapshots Taken Between Ikebukuro Station and the Sakura Hotel August 6-9, 2011

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Waiting for the Green Light. Ikebukuro Intersection.

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On the Platform, Waiting for the Train. Ikebukuro Station.

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Guys from the Office, After Work. Ikebukuro.

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Decision-making Time: Ramen, Soba… Ikebukuro.

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A Place Where Some People Play. Ikebukuro.

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Walking the Wee One. Near Sakura Hotel. Ikebukuro.

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“Walking” the Dogs. Near the Sakura Hotel. Ikebukuro.

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Simple Dinner, Ramen. Near Ikebukuro Station.

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Poster. Ikebukuro.

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Looking Out from Ikebukuro Station.

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An @ikebukuro_hotel Twitter Poem

good morning from Tokyo.

Tyhoon is coming. Its 25degree today.  Plz don’t forget to bring jacket with you when you go out.  Have you tried this BIG cafe au lait bowl?

Sometime our Cafe become as Dog Cafe.  How

sweet!!!  Each season has great atmosphere.

You should try

this beer!  I prefer cat.  pool in the sky???

The scene like the pic can be seen sometimes actually.  Some treats them as a baby.

Go Japan Go!

Father, mother and

baby.  All of them are lovely.  I ate the second one today.  taste nice and made me want to go to Sweden!!

Have you experience portable shrine?  making guacamole tonight.

What is your favorite German beer? Good morning from Tokyo 😀

Communicate

with

passion.

Do you have problem                                                                                                                                                                                                     again

with

the language?  Gambare my friend!

___________________

Note & Apologia:  All Tweets featured above are actual Tweets; the punctuation is as-Tweeted.  However, I did not include links or references to other Twitter “handles” or “monikers.”  All Tweets featured above are but a fraction of many, many more posted between September 15-20, 2011.

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  1. Been following there tweets as well for some while now. I love tweeting with them since they are so relaxed and generally interested. Did you know that Ken likes to watch Martial Arts on Tv, wrestling is a passion to him it seems. When I some day travel to Tokyo, that is the hotel I will stay at 🙂

      • letsjapan
      • September 23rd, 2011

      How nice of you to say!

      See that “Hotels” link that I provide in the story, that gives a variety of places — types, price ranges, etc. That’ll give you a variety of choices. Nevertheless, Sakura has a good, informal, friendly atmosphere for the traveler on a budget. Nice people.

      All the very best to you!

      R.

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