Mar 3, 2022
SINCE IT OPENED IN spring 2020, I’ve been hearing mainly two things about Mesm Tokyo.
Firstly, that is has balcony rooms overlooking the historic Hamarikyu Gardens and the Sumida River. Private balconies are rarer than diamonds in the Tokyo hotel scene, and ones with such an iconic view are Koh-i-Noor class.
Secondly, that it brings art into nearly every aspect of the hotel, even going as far as to have a dedicated creative director involved in everything from uniforms to F&B. There is naturally lots of interesting visual art throughout the hotel, but also live performing art or music daily, restaurant courses inspired by shows at the neighboring Shiki Theater, and an original cocktail menu composed entirely of homages to famous artworks.
When I finally went to check out Mesm myself, I discovered a third quality of note: the hotel is subtly pushing the envelope in sustainability for urban hotels.
Mesm is a collaboration between Marriott’s Autograph Collection and East Japan Railway Company, the first high-end hotel under the transport giant’s umbrella. From the project’s inception, the companies wanted to center the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in all areas to see if they could reduce hospitality’s famously large footprint while maintaining a feeling of modern luxury.
General manager Hisashi Oinuma walks me through their efforts over drinks. I’m somewhat distracted my Delacroix-inspired French Revolution cocktail arriving in billowing clouds of smoke like the Tricolour over the barricades, but the energetic Oinuma, whose towering pompadour hairstyle recalls a young Elvis, is equally fascinating. He wears the same stylish uniform as the rest of the front-of-house staff, a loose unisex black design from mode designer Yohji Yamamoto’s Y’s BANG ON! label. Gender equality is an SDG in its own right, but having only one type of uniform in just three sizes also cuts down on textile waste.
Some of the sustainability practices are easy to spot. The rooms forgo printed hotel information books in favor of a tablet, which also comes loaded with simple video lessons on how to prepare a perfect cup of pour-over coffee in Japan’s traditional kissaten style. Loose grounds are provided by Ebisu roaster Sarutahiko, avoiding those problematic coffee pods. In the bathroom, rather than small individual bottles, custom Bulk Homme amenities are provided in apothecary-chic recyclable glass bottles with pump dispensers.
Others are less obvious. The towels from Gifu manufacturer Asano Nenshi, for example. Their proprietary Super Zero process twists the threads twice in opposite directions to create a layer of air in between. This results in a fiber that is more absorbent and yet faster drying than standard cotton, reducing water use in laundering. Mesm uses a slightly smaller size, as well, so more towels can fit in a single load. However, they’re so soft and fluffy I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been told as much.
Similarly, the bathrobe converts into yukata-like pajamas, doing double duty to reduce linen usage. It’s made from a quick-drying fiber developed by venerable Nagoya textile maker Kondobo and Shinshu University. It’s a light knit soft enough for infant onesies but with the durability to hold up to hospitality wear-and-tear without pilling.
While linen fibers might not be the sexiest salespoint for a luxury hotel, those small changes have allowed Mesm to drastically cut energy and water consumption compared to other urban hotels their size. For a younger cohort of socially conscious travelers raised in the age of climate change, these sorts of sustainability initiatives can put a hotel on the map.
Meanwhile, Oinuma tells me they are continuing to proactively search for ways to further reduce their footprint. They are working with a local marine science university to see if food waste can be turned into feed for fish farms, who would eventually provide fish for the Mesm Tokyo restaurant, for example.
While these efforts can be time- and cost-intensive, Oinuma says they can sometimes be an opportunity too. In Japan, it has long been the custom to kit out every room with complimentary amenities like combs, toothbrushes and razors, usually made from cheap plastic. However, in April this year, a change in the law will force hotels to charge for these items or replace them with more eco-friendly alternatives.
While some bamboo items are on the market, Oinuma wondered whether paper could be used instead as paper-making is a traditional Japanese craft. Hardened paper is already used to make disposable, fully biodegradable dishware, for example, so the hotel is currently reaching out to producers for prototypes. If their prototypes can be made to meet their requirements, the humble in-room amenities at Mesm Tokyo may be able to provide a surprising cultural touchpoint for guests and show off Japan’s manufacturing skill.
“Luxury hotels need to lead the innovation,” Oinuma says. “And if we find something that works, it disperses to the rest of the industry for an even bigger impact.”
marriot.com/tyoam; starting rate from ¥53,130.
All photos courtesy of Mesm Tokyo.