LET’S TOAST OUR EVENT with Japanese wine. That might sound like a joke. Japanese wine? You mean rice wine? No, Japanese wine. Red or white, fermented from Japanese grapes. At first sip you know you’re tasting something of genuine quality. Why have you never sampled it at home? Because hardly any of it is exported; it is mostly consumed domestically. To try the full range of varieties, you must come to Japan.
The wine is just one reason among many to choose this unique country for your MICE event. There’s nowhere quite like Japan, and the MICE options reflect that. Tokyo in particular boasts a well-developed MICE infrastructure, including experiences tailored for small or large groups.
Business Events Tokyo offers team-building sessions involving sushi making, robot building or taiko drumming. All require teamwork. Other cultural experiences available include karate lessons, flower arranging and learning the art of the tea ceremony.
As you’d expect of a sophisticated metropolis of 9 million people, you’ll find no shortage of world-class venues. Arguably, the flagship is the Tokyo International Forum, offering 1.5 million square feet of floor space in four buildings and the flexibility to accommodate everything from a small business meeting to a major exhibition. The Forum will host the weightlifting competitions for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Olympics. Let’s not forget about them. Tokyo is investing nearly $4 billion in infrastructure and facilities ahead of next year’s event. Though construction work will create some inconveniences in the runup, the benefits are already filtering through, with upgraded expressways and expanded rail stations.
Find another heavyweight venue in the Tokyo Conference Center Shinagawa, located in Shinagawa District. The venue boasts two halls and a range of boardrooms on three floors, all just a short walk from Shinagawa Station, with convenient connections to Haneda and Narita International airports and to the country’s bullet train network.
Tokyo Big Sight (also known as the Tokyo International Exhibition Center) reigns as the most distinctive venue in Tokyo and the biggest exhibition space in Japan. Resembling four upside-down pyramids balanced on four stocky support columns, the building originally opened in 1996, instantly becoming an unmistakable fixture of the skyline in the Waterfront area. The venue features five exhibition spaces, three conference halls, a ballroom and numerous smaller meeting rooms.
In addition to dedicated venues, most of Tokyo’s international hotels (of which there are many) offer MICE facilities. Park Hyatt Tokyo, the unforgettable setting of the movie Lost in Translation, occupies the top 14 floors of a 52-floor tower, offering stunning views of the cityscape and, on a rare clear day, Mount Fuji. The hotel has three versatile function rooms as well as boardroom facilities and private dining options.
The Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, in Nihonbashi District (styled ‘‘Fusion City” in tourism literature because of its blend of old and new) has 14 event spaces, the largest of which can seat up to 260 people. Every event includes a dedicated manager assigned to it and can incorporate cultural experiences as part of the program, such as Bushido martial art lessons or the making of traditional fans.
Japanese cuisine should feature in any visit to Tokyo, and where better to experience it than in a restaurant that recreates the atmosphere of the Edo Period? Tofuro, in the swank Ginza District, comes complete with an indoor street, a running stream and several traditional wooden buildings. The seasonal menu includes, of course, sushi and sashimi. MICE groups can rent out an entire floor for up to 100 people or private rooms for two to 100 people.
Alongside all of the standard international-class venues, Tokyo has a variety of unusual options, some breathtaking, others quirky.
The Maxell Aqua Park within the Shinagawa Prince Hotel belongs to the breathtaking category. The exhibits combine aquarium displays with interactive technology as well as a central pool for spectacular dolphin shows. The Aqua Park can be hired exclusively after it closes to the public at 10 p.m., either for stand-alone events or to supplement events in the more formal surroundings of the hotel’s ballroom.
TABLOID, in Minato District beside Tokyo Bay, fits in the quirky category. This former printing factory is the epitome of industrial chic. Its versatile central space can accommodate up to 2,000 people, and the building also has a rooftop terrace overlooking the bay.
Tokyo is so unrelentingly urban, it is hard to imagine rural Japan lies within easy reach. Around 90 minutes inland from downtown, close to the city of Ashikaga, find Coco Farm Winery. The winery produces Japanese variants of European wines (Chardonnay, Merlot), as well as genuinely Japanese wines derived from the local Koshu grape. Sample some of the wines in a tasting room suitable for small groups and enjoy vineyard views from the terrace of a small café.
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Fragrant, soothing and filled with powerful antioxidants, tea is second only to water on the list of beverages consumed around the planet. If your vision of the perfect tea experience includes Japan as a setting, consider visiting the historic tea production region of Shizuoka. Yielding more than a third of all Japan’s tea, Shizuoka lies southwest of Tokyo and east of Nagoya (about an hour by train from either city).