Travelling to Japan with family? Book an apartment hotel
TOKYO – I am on the eighth course of my omakase dinner, watching the chef set glistening tuna on freshly pressed mounds of vinegared rice.
My daughter is getting restless at the sushi counter, having finished her child set meal.
Breezily, I wave my three children towards the neighbouring area to play. I am in perfectly relaxed-mother mode because we are not at an exclusive restaurant.
Rather, we are dining at a full-fledged sushi counter in the comfort of our hotel room – yes – at Mimaru Apartment Hotels.
Mimaru represents a new breed of hotels that caters specifically to families and group travellers in Japan, with all rooms offering at least four beds.
Our room with the sushi counter is a special-concept, premium family apartment in Mimaru’s Tokyo Ueno Okachimachi hotel and houses eight travellers comfortably.
In Japan, hotel space is a luxury. Many hotel rooms hover between 15 and 25 sq m. I recall having to test my long-jump skills, vaulting over my luggage to navigate tight spaces.
Family rooms are rare and booked up early, a Japan-enthusiast friend used to say. Or you can get two small rooms without guarantee of interconnecting ones. Otherwise, try searching for a reliable Airbnb, she would add.
But the landscape is now evolving, with the rise of locally owned, apartment-only hotels in Japan.
At Mimaru, all rooms offer a minimum of four beds and range from 37 to 90 sq m, which are sizeable for Japanese hotels.
“Apartment hotels with every unit offering at least four beds are not common in Japan,” a Mimaru staff member tells me. “We hope that our larger rooms will make a difference for family travellers.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Mimaru – owned by Daiwa House Group under its subsidiary Cosmos Hotel Management – built 13 new hotels. The rapid expansion boosted its slate to 25 hotels operating across Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
In our visit to the three cities, my family – including three children aged between eight and 10 – explores four Mimaru hotels.
Comfortable family suites
Our family suite in the newly launched Mimaru Suites Tokyo Nihombashi, which offers only two-bedroom suites, is designed with a modern Japanese touch featuring light woods and a neutral palette.
Natural light filters through translucent lattices of shoji windows.
My children’s eyes gleam at the sight of the king-size bunk beds, padded with four single mattresses, in one bedroom.
“This bed is like a luxury tent,” my son remarks as he settles into the spacious lower deck, complete with bedhead lights and USB ports, while my husband and I enjoy sake – complimentary on weekday nights – in the living-cum-dining room.
The apartment also comprises a master bedroom, a kitchenette and, notably, two bathrooms (each with a bathtub and separate shower area) – a luxury when travelling as a family of five in Japan.
Mimaru Suites Tokyo Nihombashi is located in Ningyocho, a district steeped in Edo tradition.
We are a stone’s throw from two revered sukiyaki restaurants, Ningyocho Imahan and Hiyama. Both have adjacent retail shops selling finest-quality kuroge washu – Japanese black wagyu beef – which I purchase to grill in our hotel.
We borrow a tabletop grill and Mino ceramic tableware from the hotel lobby, and indulge in a meal of luscious meats cooked on the dining table of our suite.
The misuji (top blade), with impeccable snowflake marbling and sliced “yakishabu” style, as well as the buttery sankaku bara (chuck short rib) are euphorically flavourful to me.
At our hotel reception in Tokyo Nihombashi, I check out the available child-friendly provisions. Baby cribs? Check. Baby bathtubs, toddler chairs and bed rail guards? Check.
Children’s cutlery sets and furniture corner guards are also available, and I am told some hotel branches stock diaper bins.
At Mimaru Tokyo Ueno North, travellers can even select the baby-friendly apartments, pre-furnished with baby products such as bottle sterilisers, bath thermometers, toilet training seats, step stools, toys and diapers.
My brood is past that stage, but such thoughtful child-friendly offerings – available on a first-come, first-served basis – are a bonus for families with babies and toddlers.
In our hotel rooms, roller blinds behind shoji windows can be lowered to darken rooms, which is handy for those who require daytime naps.
I am glad that our suite at Tokyo Nihombashi has an in-room washer-cum-dryer, having packed light to navigate Japan’s inter-city trains with kids and luggage.
Easy access to the subway is a priority and I select hotels within three minutes’ walk of a station, making it convenient to explore the cities with kids.
There are no full restaurants in Mimaru hotels, but we are happy to use the kitchenette to whip up hot breakfasts with ingredients from nearby convenience stores.
Configurations and pricing
Mimaru has two brands to its name.
Mimaru Suites offers apartments solely with two or more bedrooms, while the Mimaru series features largely studio apartments (also with four or more beds) and a sprinkling of units with one or two bedrooms.
Family travellers can choose from various bed configurations across Mimaru hotels, such as single beds, bunk or loft beds and, for a more traditional experience, futons.
To set up their futons over tatami mats, my children pack away the chabudai (short-legged table) in a Japanese-style apartment at Mimaru Osaka Shinsaibashi West.
Although major housekeeping – changing of bedsheets, bedmaking and vacuuming – is performed only on the fourth day of each stay, towels can be replaced, trash emptied and toiletries refilled every day.
Mimaru’s offerings are priced in the mid-range bracket. When I visit in early December 2022, one night in a studio apartment that sleeps five at Mimaru Kyoto station costs $265. A night in a two-bedroom suite at Mimaru Suites Tokyo Nihombashi costs $378.
Prices are likely to rise as international travel looks set to surge to pre-Covid-19 levels. The rate for the same studio apartment near Kyoto station is likely to average $357 this year, while that of the two-bedroom suite at Tokyo Nihombashi may average $459, according to projections by Mimaru as at press time.
Prices include access to bonus equipment ready for “free rental”, or loan, at different hotel lobbies, such as karaoke microphones, games, takoyaki makers and even Apple TV sets, subject to availability.
With its host of family-friendly offerings, Mimaru wants families with children to feel welcome.
Mr Hideki Fujioka, president of Cosmos Hotel Management, which manages Mimaru, says: “We want these children to remember the happy memories of their stay at Mimaru, and return when they grow up and have families of their own.”
On the last day of our trip, I visit Mimaru’s board game-themed hotel in Osaka and my children ask enthusiastically if they can return to stay at this hotel.
Going by their response, Mimaru seems to be heading in the right direction.
Family-friendly themed rooms
Besides regular studio and two-bedroom apartments, Mimaru has a range of themed rooms. Here are some concept rooms designed to appeal to families.
For Pokemon enthusiasts, Japan is the place to geek out. Fans who have visited the futuristic Pokemon Center in Shibuya, or dined at Pokemon Cafe in Nihonbashi, can now also spend a night surrounded by the critters.
Mimaru offers Pokemon rooms in eight of its hotels across Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Each room is decorated with Pokeballs and pocket monsters. Spot Pikachu and marvel at themed walls with Eevee, Rattata and Mewtwo. Follow the giant footsteps on the floor that lead to a giant Snorlax plush toy on the bed.
Enjoy meals on plates and cups with signature red, white and black Pokeball designs. Families can create meals with seven original Pokemon recipes in the kitchenette.
Guests receive special Pokemon-themed goodie bags upon check-in. Each room offers between four and six beds, depending on location.
Families of ninja aficionados, rejoice.
Cryptic communication scrolls, traditional ukiyo-e art and models of shuriken (ninja throwing stars) adorn the room – great for kids in the stealthy ninja phase. Bookends are fashioned from models of mock kunai throwing knives. Designed in collaboration with the Japan Ninja Council, this room has serious ninja cred.
My child is elated when I take her to view this spacious apartment. She attempts an activity to locate the “hidden ninja” decal in different corners of the room. Her favourite is one that can be unveiled only with the aid of technology (no spoilers). Guests who spot all the decals can claim a prize from the hotel reception.
The centrepiece is a large dining table with zabuton, or rectangular floor cushions, that add to the traditional vibe of the room.
The ninja room, located in Mimaru Tokyo Ueno Okachimachi, sleeps eight.
Sushi is almost synonymous with Japan, but how about staying in a room with a sushi counter?
“Toro, buri, hirami,” our private chef says as he presents fresh tuna, yellowtail and flounder in his netabako wooden crate. He serves a 12-course sushi dinner for my husband and me in our apartment, without the formality of a restaurant.
Here, adults need not worry whether children will get restless or rowdy before the end of multiple courses. After my children finish their set meals, they entertain themselves with karaoke microphones and games loaned from the hotel, while my husband and I converse over sushi and dessert.
This setting could also work for groups of friends or multiple families travelling together. Parents can enjoy a leisurely meal by the sushi counter and children can play in the living room.
Guests booking this room have to engage their own private chef, but Mimaru is looking to work out contracts with private chefs. Those who do not wish to hire a chef can grab supplies at a supermarket.
The apartment, which sleeps eight at Ueno Okachimachi, has a fully equipped kitchen and a rice cooker.
Board Game Room
At the lobby of Mimaru Osaka Namba Station, I see myriad board games illuminated by warm lights on maple wood shelves.
A hotel staff member, gesturing at the vibrant display, says there are 130 games in all. “Guests can play them here at the lobby or borrow games to play in their rooms.”
Mimaru has partnered Japanese board game cafe, Jelly Jelly Cafe, to curate games from all over the world. Game designers have also created eight exclusive games for Mimaru, such as an in-room coin hunt and hide-and-seek pictogram.
My children are intrigued by the concept of The Secret Room, where guests crack a code within 30 minutes to locate a hidden treasure room within the hotel.
Families can also book themed rooms, such as the Board Game Room for Children, which comes complete with games and toys that delight children, as well as a mini slide for toddlers or pre-schoolers.
- Denise Lim, a travel journalist, is now inspired to seek out the finest local produce for her next apartment-hotel stay.
- The writer was hosted by Mimaru Apartment Hotels.