FEATURE: Tokyo luxury hotel offers lantern-inspired dining for COVID era

© Kyodo News

Fancy having dinner with your own private lantern-styled pod hanging from above your head? That's what one luxury hotel in Tokyo has come up with as a stylish way to protect customers against the coronavirus.

The unique dining experience comes courtesy of Hoshinoya Tokyo, a luxury "ryokan" traditional Japanese inn located in the capital's Otemachi business district.

The open bottom hanging partitions, added to the hotel's private banquet room on Oct. 13, are offered with a Japanese cuisine dinner prepared by the head chef.

"As the installation of partitions in restaurants and eating spaces has become standard, we wondered if we could propose an experience that would make the dining experience more enjoyable," said General Manager Ryosuke Akahane.

While the hotel first came up with the idea of lanterns to match the property's atmosphere, it soon found that the design was also practical in terms of operability and comfort.

The hotel's operator Hoshino Resorts Inc. produced the partitions styled like traditional paper lanterns, known as "chochin," in collaboration with Kojima Shoten, a Kyoto-based paper lantern maker that has been in business since the Edo period (1603-1868).

According to Akahane, they have been modified to consider visibility, customer height, and convenience when sitting down, standing up, and having food served by waitstaff, so "they are more comfortable than they appear."

While the top section is made of paper, it transitions to clear plastic part-way down so that customers can see their dinner companions while not worrying about droplet spray as they wine and dine.

"The purpose of a dinner party is to deepen friendship and build a relationship of trust among the people gathered through food and conversation. So we want our customers to enjoy the original purpose of the dinner party by having a meal and conversation without holding back," said Akahane.

Each lantern pod is 102 centimeters in height and 75 cm in diameter and possesses its own light source to ensure customers can clearly see the food in front of them. Each has an open back to improve ventilation.

While the dining space is usually open only to hotel guests, those who pay a 30,000 yen ($260) venue fee can invite friends and family to dine with them. The 40 square meter space also offers total privacy as it can only be booked by one group per day.

According to the hotel, customers have commented that the experience was surprisingly easy to get used to, with the partitions not interfering with eating or conversations with their dining companions.

"When the COVID situation settles down, we hope our guests will enjoy meals as before without any stress. However, we will continue to look for new proposals based on customer feedback," Akahane said.