Mary Gostelow discovers that Japan is ever-evolving to keep up with the world of luxury travel

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Luxury hotels must be masters of morphing to succeed in today’s world, and this is exemplified by The Ritz-Carlton Osaka, Japan. It opened in 1997, right in the city centre, with internal walkways to the main local train station and Herbis office and retail complex, both also owned by Hankyu Hanshin Holdings. Osaka residents are a little more conservative than their Tokyo cousins and some do not want anything to change. In 2017, the hotel finished internal renovations by ongoing designers HBA, who have brilliantly managed old and new. Some public areas look the same but rooms have been lightened and brightened.

GM Chris Clark now runs a 291-room hotel that is continuing to evolve, from predominantly corporate to increasingly leisure. Some young ladies come for staycations with girlfriends, all attracted, says Clark, by the hotel’s 34th-floor Club Lounge. This is a powder-blue-grey elegant haven, with a fixed bar, a help-yourself oenothèque machine that offers chilled Chilean chardonnay and French Viognier, and five food presentations a day that are more than enough to feed even the hungriest soul. Other locals who do not stay over still come to the hotel for its food. La Baie serves modern-style French, with a Michelin star as a credential. Among other offerings is the all-day and lots of fun Splendido, run by an Italian fashionista chef, Oriana Tirabassi, formerly with Dolce & Gabbana.

Splendido is currently, through May, celebrating strawberries – my room welcome included white shiro Ichigo berries from Nara, and red sakura momo Ichigo strawberries from Kumamoto or Saga prefecture. Saga Prefecture is currently getting top billing, alongside strawberries, in Splendido’s lunch and dinner menus. I enjoyed Yobuko squid crudo with avocado mayonnaise and pan-fried Saga fish with the prefecture’s themed Ariake nori seaweed and finished with Honoka strawberry jelly terrine, also from Saga. This was à la carte. Had we arrived earlier we could have taken part in one of the two daily strawberry buffets. During the season, from December to May, in all they will serve over 40,000 customers, paying $50 a head to taste enormous amounts of the 50 strawberry presentations, which include a strawberry chocolate fountain.

At the same time, traditional afternoon tea, also $50 each, is being served in the hotel’s lobby lounge… see why this luxury hotel is so beloved of locals? But, concurrently, it has to adapt, to morph to 2018 and beyond. At breakfast back in Splendido, now a friendly early-morning venue, what had been a pizza station is now producing eggs. Today’s special is a truffle omelette (absolutely superb by the way), but many of the breakfast guests around me still cannot resist the strawberry-topped French toast also on display. As I sit down I (like all of them) am brought a little china dish with two red strawberries. A professionally printed note says these are Amaou, from Fukuoka Prefecture, and Sachinoka. Later, I cannot find the latter’s provenance but apparently, each berry costs $5, which is decidedly more than the value of the fruit in the Beerenberg preserves pots in military alignment on the table. As things change in Japan, some national characteristics go on forever.

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