There was never any question in my mind where I wanted to stay on my first visit to Tokyo. It was a hotel dedicated to the King of Monsters, himself, Godzilla.
It’s technically called the Hotel Gracery, Shinjuku. Part of a large number of Hotel Gracery hotels around Japan, it turns out. But I didn’t know that, or care, when I learned about this hotel. I just knew it had a giant Godzilla head on the roof which roared and breathed steam. It was also a pretty good hotel in many “normal” ways, as well: price, room, location, etc. etc.. But that was just a bonus. I was there for the Godzilla.
The big Godzilla head didn’t disappoint. After some negotiating, I even snagged myself one of the special “Godzilla View” rooms. Yes, they called them that. And sure enough, out my high, horizontal, window I could stare right into the eye of the big guy. As importantly, when he did his show, every hour on the hour, I was right there to see his eyes light up, steam pouring out of his mouth, and hear his roar traveling through the streets of Kabukicho. Even when I stopped running to the window like a puppy, every show, the sound of the roar and the flashes of bright light reminded me that the King was always near. In case you wondering, they don’t let this go on all night. Even Godzilla needs to sleep, obviously.
On closer inspection of Godzilla from his base on the hotel terrace, I discovered even more marvels. The head rests on a pedestal with sculptures of famous scenes of his movies. Oh, and a pretty interesting view of Tokyo too, if you care about such things. Which I didn’t, being far too enthralled with the best discovery of all. I could make Godzilla roar. Yep, there was a semi-secret part of the pedestal that said “put your hand in and see what happens.” I was a bit nervous that it would be some cruel trick. Maybe a giant blade would come down and remove my arm as a recording played “Ha, ha, stupid foreigner!” But no, what happened was so much more fun than losing a limb. My hand passed over a motion sensor and the mighty beast roared at my command. I controlled the King! How fantastic.
So far, so good. Amazing even. But sadly, beyond what I have mentioned, the hotel is not heavily Godzilla themed, at all. In fact, it’s a very nice, tastefully decorated, typical hotel. Which was kind of disappointing. I wanted more Godzilla and there really wasn’t that much more to be found. Having said that, there was a very nice collection of Godzilla movie posters in the lobby. There was also an absolutely fantastic, six-foot-tall model of Godzilla crushing stuff near the same area. But, other than a lame Godzilla sticker machine, that was about it. Not that all of that wasn’t terrific. I’m just greedy and wanted more. You know how it is.
There was one unexpected Godzilla experience in the hotel that helped me get over my disappointment. The Toho movie theater in the base of the building was showing the third of the Godzilla animated movies while I was there. I’m actually not a huge fan of these particular animated movies, and there were no subtitles, but it was clearly something I couldn’t pass up. Just sharing that experience of watching a Godzilla movie with a Japanese crowd at eleven in the morning made it totally worth it. It felt slightly different, in a great way. For instance, nobody, and I mean, absolutely nobody, talked or got up and left before all the end credits had finished. No typical, rude, American movie crowd this.
I suppose that I should mention that the hotel was actually quite nice in many of the ways normal humans seem to judge these things. It wasn’t cheap but certainly not anywhere near Park Hyatt expensive, either. The room was small but incredibly well designed. Within that tiny space, they even manged to put in a large bathroom with full soaking tub and shower that would put many Beverly Hills mansions to shame. Not to mention, the hi-tech toilets so admired around the world. Great toilets, but I do wish there were instructions in English for all those options. Hitting the wrong button can be quite a jolt. In addition, there was also weird, if ultimately kind of boring, Japanese porn available and several types of beer for sale in a vending machine, right down the hall. Not a bad place at all, even without the Godzilla awesomeness.
As for the location, the hotel is in the very heart of the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku. This is the former, and to some degree, still current, red-light district. It’s dirty, insanely crowded, day and night, and filled with obnoxious tourists. The upside is it is within easy walking distance to a lot of interesting places, many of which are open late. For instance, you are just blocks from a Mega-Muji store, stuffed, top to bottom, with cool-looking minimalist goods, and the Isetan luxury department store with its impressive, and highly-recommended, basement food hall. More importantly, the official Godzilla Store, Tokyo, is just down the street. Let’s not forget why we’re here, now.
Even non-Godzilla heathens would appreciate the location in terms of getting around the rest of Tokyo. Assuming you can find your train platform in the sprawling, and confusing as hell, Shinjuku Station, you can get just about anywhere in the city from here.
During my two-week stay, I developed a real love/hate relationship with Kabukicho. I have no regrets, at all, about staying there for my first trip. In spite of all its downsides, it’s not only convenient, it’s a fascinating area. Neon. Crowds. And more neon. However, the next time that I go back to Tokyo, I will probably stay in a different part of town. If nothing else, I just want to experience the other aspects of life there. The clean, quiet, peaceful, more local, aspects that have long been banished from Kabukicho. Then again, I already miss having Godzilla right out my window. All the quiet and luxury in the world can never compete with the comforting sound of his ferocious roar. I really do miss that guy.