The real star of the beautiful Lost In Translation, this towering masterpiece is the best way of retreating after a bewildering working day in Tokyo. The New York Bar on the top floor is super-hip and the swimming pool/spa, on the 53rd floor, is breathtaking. If you don’t have the cash – or the expense budget – a normal room is certainly good enough, but if you do book a Park Suite (with its separate bedroom) or, best of all, its signature Diplomatic Suite: with its own library, dining room and grand piano, it is a spectacular way to wind down and wow your clients.
The only problem with the Park Hyatt is its location – Shinjuku is good for business irrefutably (it’s the Financial District) but it’s also fairly dull.
The Conrad Tokyo’s major attraction is its location. Walking distance from the Hamarikyu Garden and the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market (amongst other tourist delights), this is the place to stay if you don’t have a weekend (go for the Hyatt if you do) but do have time to explore in the evenings. The in-house Gordon Ramsay restaurants are also a bonus. Book an Executive Room or an Executive Suite; the latter is exceptional value given its 83 square metre size.
Fukuzushi, near Roppongi is great for a quieter (perhaps weekday team) dinner. It is a dinky, gorgeous, family-run restaurant, with sushi dominating the menu. The sashimi – especially tuna and salmon staples – are irresistibly delicious and the sake deserves your full attention. Two important tips. Get there early – it gets rather empty after 9pm – and make sure you get very clear directions – it’s remarkably difficult to find.
The New York Grill on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt is heaving every night, it serves some of the best seafood, poultry and red meat I’ve ever tasted in Japan (no mean feat). There’s also a super-high celebrity quotient.
The two XEX bars in Tokyo are wonderful insider secrets. The first, situated in the Atago Green Hills Mori Tower, is ten minutes from Roppongi and has spectacular views of the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower. The second, located in Daikanyama, is irrefutably the city’s best bar for spring/summer; it features the city’s trendiest folk and also serves very stylish teppanyaki.
If it’s total oblivion you’re after, Yellow and A-Life are marvellous clubs. The former is a cavernous, multi-floor maze with twenty-somethings going completely overboard to the unmistakeable sound of Japanese techno till after you’re back at work; not for the faint-hearted. Perhaps better for the average business traveller looking to let his or her hair down is A-Life. The staff speak English, there are expats to chat and party with, champagne is the predominant drink of choice, and the music is mercifully more tame.
The Japanese love their open spa/baths. There are many around Tokyo and all over Japan in fact. You can pop in for just an hour, get clean, relax, and get a massage if you wish. Perfect before a long flight. If you have a bit longer, why not take a train to Nikko, about two hours away, where you can relax in the Japanese alps!
Upon arrival in Tokyo Narita International airport (or just before you leave!), don't just rush headlong into the city... If you have come long-haul and are tired, there's nothing better than to get your head down at one of the airport hotels for a few hours, and then use Narita as a gentle introduction to Japan/Tokyo. It is a nice small town, which is very walkable, and has many little gems including a temple, local restaurants, shops and backstreet pubs. Prices for food, hotels et al will be much cheaper that Tokyo city, and it allows you to acclimatise in a much less hectic/congested atmosphere. I have always found it a perfect way to take a breather before business in Japan and/or exploring the country on vacation.
Depending on where you are staying, it may actually take you longer to take the 'airport express' train than the coach. The coach takes from 70-90 minutes but saves you travelling to the train station (particularly during rush hour) and can often pick you up from the hotel.
Ask at your hotel
Faced with the prospect of navigating a domestic train system in a foreign language could be a daunting task. However, taking the bullet train (shinkensen) is no where near as scary as it may first appear. Go to the tourist information centre in the main stations and you will be given a step by step process and timetable. Get yourself a seat reservation and buy your ticket at the machine or at the desk. Much quicker taking the train over distances up to several hours than trekking all the way to the airport.
If you've got yourself some spare time whilst in Tokyo, why not escape to some Yokohama. Here you could visit the iconic Rainbow wheel, a huge shopping mall and a waterfront park. 'Escaping' from Tokyo, you will be delighted by the (marginal) increase in space and sense of openness as a breeze blows over the water. Get a train from numerous stations across Tokyo, including key stations such as Shinjuku.
Bill Murray's portrayal of a man navigating through the maze that is Japanese business and etiquette was critically acclaimed. Central to the movie was the hotel bar which is frequented. Why not treat yourself to sky-high views with cocktails to match (including the obligatory 'Lost in Translation' cocktail). Situated off Shinjuku, the bar is at the top of the ever so grand, Grand Hyatt - Tokyo.
It's talked about but not many people in the world have tasted it. It is decadent and pure luxury. I'm talking about Kobe beef - the most tender, tasty, melt in the mouth moment I've ever tasted. This delight of Japanese cuisine is of course, best tasted in the home of the beef. Kobe is an hour or so away from Tokyo on the bullet train but the journey is well worth it. Step out of Kobe's main shinkensen station and you will be greeted with posters and bill boards of places to taste this fine meat.
Check out the restaurants who offer 'nose print' certificates of the cow to prove authenticity. Lightly grilled is my personal recommendation.
Watch a sumo tournament if you are visiting Tokyo in January, May or September. These are held at the impressive Kokugikan stadium, which seats over 13,000 spectators. Obtaining tickets is much more straightforward now thanks to the Internet - booking ahead is advisable, although sometimes there are a few tickets available on the day. A really impressive option is to book a Masu-seki, which is a boxed area for four people close to the ring itself. These cost ten times the amount charged for ordinary seats, but you are - quite literally - in the centre of the action. Take a train or taxi to Kokugikan (nearest underground is Kuramae). Stop en route and buy a bento box to eat whilst you’re there - much better than the food sold on site. Although the wrestling starts at 10am, aim to arrive in the early afternoon. The most important bouts take place between 4pm and 6pm, and there is a special closing ritual to cleanse the ring after these matches have finished, which is worth seeing.
Kuramea Kokugikan 2-1-9, Kuramae, Taito-Ku
Nearest underground - Kuramae
There is a very nice 'onsen' in Narita town, excellent if you have a layover or if you have extra time after you've landed and before a business meeting. Nothing better than an invigorating shower followed by a relaxing hot soak after a long plane ride. The standard, traditional bath (all I've used) is only $10 or so, though they also have full spa services. Like most onsen, they also have a cafe serving food.
It's in Narita but perhaps getting a cab from Narita station would be easiest. It's not the gaudy 'water park' near the station; Yamata no Yu is further away - print off the map from their website and hand it to the driver.
On your own in Tokyo? Search out large office blocks, daytime or night time, there's usually a food court either at ground or upper level. Japan can be expensive and this is an easy and inexpensive way to eat out alone. Don't worry about the language, there are the plastic plates to point out.
All over town
Japan's mobile phone system is not compatible with most non-Japanese phones. This includes Blackberrys and tri-region phones. Make sure you don't get caught short by checking to see if your phone gives you a signal when you get off the plane. If not, you are able to rent a phone at the airport (it's easier here as you can return it just before you head home and the language barrier is not an issue).
Narita Airport, Tokyo, Japan www.narita-airport.jp/en/guide/service/list/svc_19.html
When travelling in Tokyo, I would highly recommend vending machine Ramen (noodles) for the experience. The ramen is not dispensed by a machine but human contact (read the need to communicate in Japanese) is limited - so may be great for the foreign visitor. The process may look intimidating at first but in reality it couldn't be simpler. Outside the restaurant you will be faced with a vending machine with a selection of buttons, typically you need to select:
1) The size of your noodles
2) The type of noodles
3) Any extras, including egg, extra meat, etc
Simply press your desired buttons (all with pictures on for you to follow), insert money and you will be issued with a coupon. Hand this in to the staff in the 'restaurant' (usually a bar - perfect for single dining) and a few minutes later you will be presented with a piping hot bowl of ramen. Prices are fantastically cheap (no more than GBP5 a bowl) and extremely fresh. As an added bonus, you can feel smug that you've achieved to dine like a local and navigate yourself around what can be a very confusing city.
All around Japan, look for the vending machines with pictures on for a clue
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