Tokyo’s highly curated Trunk Hotel Cat Street brings ‘social sustainability’ to a fashion-forward neighbourhood in the Japanese capital. Rose Dykins reports
Moments before arriving at Trunk Hotel Cat Street, we pass a line-up of students from Shibuya Fashion and Art Senmon School directly opposite who look like they’ve stepped straight out of a magazine spread. The hotel’s edgy, angular structure catches your eye – each floor’s terraces sprouting mini jungles. Mount Fuji Architects Studio, wanted to evoke: “A tree planted upon an irregularly layered plate”.
Open since 2017, ahead of the nearby one-suite residence Trunk House (2019), Trunk Hotel Cat Street capitalises on the energy and excitement of being a ten-minute walk down the road from Shibuya Crossing, and a six-minute stroll from Harajuku metro station.
Cat Street – the origins of its name are mysterious – is a pedestrianised, alternative, highly fashionable quarter known for its rockabilly tattoo parlours, quality coffee shops, and tempting vintage and streetwear boutiques.Waiting at the entrance is a smiley staff member wearing wide-leg jeans, an oversized bomber jacket and Doc Martens (the team are all dressed in their own, uber-cool clothes). As she leads us to a reserved table in the lobby – receiving messages from her coworkers over her in-ear mic – I exhale slightly, with that feeling of being glad you’re on the guest list.
This is not to say things feels cold or exclusive – more, well organised and choreographed to make you feel special. We sip cold-brew coffees (welcome drinks) and order from the lobby bar’s loaded fries menu (the teriyaki steak topping is unbelievable) before another staff member comes over to check us in.
The 15-room Trunk Hotel Cat Street appears to attract artists, fashion elite, pro-skateboarders and architects as typical clientele. There’s a sense of ideas percolating to the backdrop of the ambient lofi funk being played throughout the lobby space, which couldn’t be much more inviting to the outside world – in contrast to the serene Trunk Hotel Yoyogi Park. Informal laptop meetings take place at a series of co-working tables with long banquet seating. The check-in desk feels almost intentionally hidden, tucked around the corner from the main area of the lobby.
As you’d expect from such a design-centric property, there’s a strong concept underpinning each guest touchpoint. Trunk refers to this concept as “socialising”, defined as “the ability for individuals to realistically and easily make substantial social contributions through their daily lives”.
The core values of Trunk’s socialising concept are: “environment”, “local first”, “diversity”, “health” and “culture”. The result caters to the tastes of those who want to use their purchasing power for social sustainability in a way that feels seamless, authentic and in step with how millennials truly want to enjoy a luxury hotel stay in the 2020s.
Designed by Jamo Associates to incorporate Trunk’s “soclialising” ethos, the hotel’s interior design seeks to connect people with eachother and offer them new cultural experiences. The relaxed, custom-made furniture is crafted from upcycled materials.
White neon strip lights glow fiercely against neutral wood chip walls, while concrete floors with spot lighting contribute to the art gallery aesthetic. At a central glass-walled exhibition area, curators unwrap objects for a pop-up display.The morning after, the build is complete, and the space is occupied by furry google-eyed monsters with ultra-long arms, and designer accessories for sale.
A neon sign saying: “You look like you are getting Trunk” buzzes above the huge bar. Just like the lobby exhibition space, the artwork changes seasonally. A giant wooden geometric elephant head is suspended from the ceiling above the nearby lounge area.
A shoal of wooden fish on string dangle from the ceiling above DJ decks, while wooden monkeys by the same artist clamber across a series of black pendant lamps. Everything feels alive, playful and natural, and these personality traits are threaded throughout the property.As well as four banquet rooms and a lounge, the hotel has its own sleek, glass and wood rooftop wedding chapel on its fourth floor. Rather than focusing on the big day itself, Trunk says its wedding package concept focuses on the run-up to the wedding to help couples create a “roadmap for their future”, incorporating seminars and workshops that support them to realise what their ideal marriage looks like – which I feel is an interesting approach to social sustainability.
The 11 guest rooms are spread across the hotel’s second and third floors (modestly sized at 20-25 sqm). There are also four suites, each one with a unique layout. The largest, the 140 sqm, two-floor Terrace Suite, has a long dining table and a 70 sqm rooftop terrace that’s regularly hired for parties of up to 60 people, complete with a barbecue area and fire pit.
We stay in the 55 sqm Living Suite, which has a 10 sqm “loft” lounge area, accessible via a spindly metal ladder. K-Pop music videos are projected onto the wall (the projector can connect to your phone) while the vinyl record player and framed black and white photography of James Dean and Grace Kelly add to the young, laid-back sense of glamour.
The wooden in-room bar with a well-equipped cabinet of wine glasses creates a focal point for hosting an intimate gathering. Soft drinks are free, and the tea and coffee making facilities are similar to those found in Trunk Yoyogi Park. The minibar, stocked with locally sourced snacks and drinks, is refilled ready for the time of day these are intended to be enjoyed. There is a rain shower over the bath in the white-tiled bathroom, with a separate room for Toto toilet – the lid of which lifts automatically when I open the door.
After a day of exploring around Cat Street, we’re grateful to flop onto the wide sofas in the lounge, dump our shopping bags and have a cup of tea while watching music videos on the projector.
In line with Trunk’s penchant for smart design with a sustainable origin story, the bicycles for hire at the hotel are repurposed from impounded bikes parts donated from the city police. Candles from the hotel’s wedding ceremonies are reused elsewhere.
Similarly, the highly curated Trunk store – a gift shop on the ground floor – sells covetable and quirky souvenirs such as Trunk-branded wallets made from discarded leather, glassware made from broken fluorescent lights and intriguing items such as “emergency bread’ in a can. Guests staying at the hotel receive 10 per cent off, and my partner and I were both keen to grab a souvenir Trunk T-shirt.
The large leafy patio area walk directly off the street, with al fresco seating, and a zelkova tree draped in festoon fairy lights at its centre. From here, you can walk straight into the Trunk store or the hotels’ two restaurants
We enjoy excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Trunk Kitchen. Its convivial décor features warm, sand-coloured walls and European touches, such as bistro chairs. There’s a private dining area with an open kitchen and steel table, plus enclosed seating for six people.
At breakfast we tuck into a hearty yet healthy breakfast plate (the menu has classic brunch options that are easily customisable), while lunch options include Californian style staples, such as burrito bowls, sumptuous salads and surf and turf. For dinner, the grilled swordfish with dried tomato sauce is sublime and elegantly presented.
Such a cool hotel, that shines thanks to its personality, storytelling, design choices and excellent service. It’s refreshing to stay somewhere so fashion forward that still feels down-to-earth and in-step with what you really want – such as a bowl of loaded fries, without the guilt of what you “should” be ordering on your last night in Tokyo. Despite having much to explore on its doorstep, the richness of the experience within the hotel’s walls makes you want to linger longer. A meaningful hotel stay that will stay with me.
Interestingly, there is the option to book a room plus flights via the Trunk website. An entry-level Standard room costs from US$350 in February. You can add on breakfast for US$20.