Relax in a Lush Tokyo Oasis Full of Cherry Blossoms

Hotel Chinzanso provides a luxury stay with a mist-filled garden and historic pagoda.

Its gardens are some of the most beautiful in Tokyo, lush with sakura (cherry) trees and flickering with fireflies. In their midst, a misty art installation surrounds a historic pagoda. When you tire of fresh air, a spa with a rock-lined onsen awaits, as do luxury rooms. No, it’s not heaven; it’s iconic Hotel Chinzanso, where guests have sought peace—and a one-of-a-kind Tokyo experience—for centuries.

The first thing you might notice upon arrival is that the hotel smells fantastic. It’s the kind of subtle, calming aroma that makes you sniff twice, all the better to appreciate the notes of camellia, natsumikan citrus, cypress, and kuromoji tree. While it’s not wholly unheard of for luxury hotels to smell incredible (there’s a whole cottage industry around scent branding), Chinzanso’s signature scent nods to the hotel's history.

Gardens with cherry blossoms
Photo by Laura Studarus

It takes centuries to build a modern city refuge—so, some quick backstory, before I take you for a tour. Before the hotel earned its own bus stop and a place in the pantheon of five-star Tokyo hotels, the ground it stands upon was a 14th-century proto-tourism spot, where wild camellias flourished. The land rapidly changed hands across the centuries, appearing in a One Hundred Famous Views of Edo print, and falling under control of the Kuroda clan of the Kururi feudal domain. In 1868, it received the name “Chinzanso,” meaning “Guest house on camellia hill.” A mansion was built on the property, and the modern gardens were created in 1948 as a pleasant refuge from war-torn Tokyo.

Woman photographing cherry blossoms and a pagoda
ホテル椿山荘東京(Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo)

Today, the gardens are free to visit if you’re not in the mood to shell out over $400 per night on lodging. While the building itself is gorgeous (Who knew elevator chandeliers were a thing?), the real novelty is the grounds, with so many varieties of sakura trees that they warrant an audio guide. If you’ve ever wanted to see the sakura bloom, this is an excellent place to do it, with the different varietals stretching the flowering season over two months rather than the usual two weeks. You can cross Benkei bridge, located on a tiny man-made river lined with cedar and bamboo to encourage fireflies, or stop to admire the Stones of Rakan, eerie man-like sculptures originally housed at housed at the Sekihoji temple in Kyoto before being rehomed in 1925. It’s as epic a spot as it is meditative.

Pagoda and cherry blossoms
Photo by Laura Studarus

But the real star of the show is the Entsukaku Pagoda. Located on the tallest point of the garden, the 9th century pagoda, moved into Tokyo in 1920, overlooks all the action. For photography nuts and Instagram fiends alike, it also happens to be perfectly framed by the Sea of Clouds, Hotel Chinzanso’s misty art installation. Lit pink during the sakura bloom (perhaps the most neon hue you’ll see during the season), it doubles in density during the summer to act as a cooling agent, and is even scented during the autumn to accompany vibrant fall colors. It’s a backdrop so otherworldly that it isn’t unusual to see newlyweds and high school grads in traditional kimonos using the gardens and mist as a portrait backdrop. Is it any wonder, then, that I spent the majority of my visit in the gardens, just vibing?

Sea of Clouds at Hotel Chinzanso
Photo by Laura Studarus

Chinzanso is one of the rare places in Tokyo where you’re sheltered from the noise of the city, but for those who don’t have an endless attention span for walking in a garden, kimono fittings, Japanese calligraphy lessons, origami workshops, samurai training sessions for groups, taiko drum workshops, and tea ceremonies are also on offer. Every element of your stay is designed for both maximum relaxation and immersion into Japanese culture.

Rooms come in Japanese modern and “classic” western design. I was assigned at western-style room, where I made use of both the oversized tub and L'Occitane Citrus Verbena toiletries. But there’s a nicer way to get clean at Chinzanso: the spa.

ホテル椿山荘東京(Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo)

YU, THE SPA is one of the biggest spas in Tokyo, and in addition to all the treatments one might expect, it also houses a stunning rock-lined onsen. Yes, you have to get naked and scrub yourself from head to toe in order to try the gender-segregated Japanese pool. But given YU, THE SPA’s low light and light attendance, it’s the perfect place for traditional bathing beginners.

plate of food
ホテル椿山荘東京(Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo)

When you’ve relaxed your way into an appetite, there’s plenty to eat. Breakfast comes in both Japanese and Western varieties, and there are nine restaurants to choose from, ranging from Japanese to Italian. And oh, there are desserts, too.

On one special occasion, I treated myself to a red bean and Matcha Mont Blanc, and looked out from my top story window into the garden, stifling an urge to stifle a laugh. Centuries ago, Chinzanso was established as a place of refuge and relaxation. And now so many years later, I’m still free to lean into my sugar-buzzed bliss and enjoy the calm of the gardens. Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?

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Laura Studarus is a contributor for Thrillist.