FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Tokyo: Complex And Provocative

Aug 1, 2004
2004 / August 2004

Tokyo is one of the most dynamic cities in the Far East, bustling at virtually all hours and bursting at the seams with locals and expats alike. Home to one-quarter of all Japanese, Greater Tokyo exemplifies a fascinating combination of rich cultural history and modern popular culture.

Founded four centuries ago as a fishing village called Edo, by the 18th century it had grown into a booming metropolis, home to more than 1 million people. Renamed Tokyo in 1868 at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, when the Tokugawa shogunate ended and imperial rule was restored, Tokyo’s embrace of Western civilization peaked during the Meiji period (1868-1912), as the first telephone lines and steam engines appeared in Japan. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 dealt a devastating blow to the city, killing 140,000 people and leveling much of downtown Tokyo. The city eventually recovered, and its population rebounded to more than 6 million by 1935. However, World War II again decimated the city: By 1945, Tokyo’s population had fallen to 3.5 million.

Following the war, Tokyo again slowly recovered. By the 1980s the city had become one of the world’s most important cultural, technological and financial centers. However, Tokyo’s meteoric growth during the 1980s came to a screeching halt in the 1990s, casting Tokyo, along with much of the rest of the world, into a deep recession. Now, as Tokyo’s financial industry begins to show signs of life after years of bad news, the city is making strides to regain its footing and its place as one of the most fascinating and economically relevant cities in the world. Devel-opment is giving the city a much-needed shot in the arm and drawing newfound interest from audiences around the globe. A symbol of Tokyo’s urban renewal is Roppongi Hills, a soaring 28-acre city-within-a-city in the Minato district that opened in April 2003. The largest redevelopment project ever undertaken in Tokyo, it combines apartments, offices, high-end shops, theaters, museums, and hotel and meeting facilities in a sprawling parklike setting, drawing some 50,000 to 100,000 visitors daily. The Roppongi area has become a favorite of Japan’s expat population, with heavy hitters like Goldman Sachs and Lehman Bros. setting up shop here. The juxtaposition of Roppongi Hills against the backdrop of Tokyo’s countless historical sites—the Imperial Palace, the Meiji Shrine, the Sensoji Temple and the Tsukiji Fish Market, just to name a few—is a telling reminder of Tokyo’s present-day mission: to blaze a trail into the 21st century and restore its economic might while preserving its rich cultural heritage. Whatever Tokyo’s future, this is a stunning, safe, very hospitable city to visit. The streets are clean, and the people, while many don’t speak English, are unfailingly friendly and accommodating. Stroll around Ginza, one of Tokyo’s most elegant shopping districts, and grab a drink at one of its buzzing restaurants. Or head to Shibuya, a favorite stomping ground for the city’s youth, to check out the latest fashions and hippest hot spots. For a change of pace, visit Ueno Park, the largest in the city—preferably in early April, when it’s awash in gorgeous pink cherry blossoms, the pride of Tokyo. Or hit the sack early and get up before dawn to catch the tuna auction at Tokyo’s remarkable Tsukiji Fish Market, a spectacle you’re not likely to see anywhere again. Whatever path you choose, you’ll soon come to see why Tokyo’s complexity lingers in the minds of those who visit.


Lodging

Park Hyatt Tokyo

The backdrop for the acclaimed film Lost in Translation, the Park Hyatt Tokyo is widely regarded as the best hotel in the city — and easily one of the best city hotels in the world. It offers clear views of Mount Fuji from the top 14 floors of the 52-story Shinjuku Park Tower. Located in Shinjuku, a bustling business and entertainment district, the hotel’s 178 guestrooms are the largest in Tokyo, decorated with sumptuous fabrics and Ja panese artwork. The bathrooms are outfitted beautifully with generously sized tubs, flat-screen TVs and heated toilet seats (de rigueur in Tokyo’s better hotels). Don’t miss the Club on the Park, the hotel’s health and fitness facility, with its stunning indoor pool.
Park Hyatt Tokyo
3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo 163-1055, Japan
tel 81 3 5322 1234, fax 81 3 5322 1288
www.parkhyatttokyo.com

Four Seasons Tokyo at Chinzan-so

Built on what was once the estate of an imperial prince, the Four Seasons Tokyo at Chinzan-so is surrounded by 17 acres of gorgeous Japanese gardens; on summer evenings the gardens are a popular spot for watching fireflies. This exquisite hotel’s 283 rooms—including 51 suites—are some of the largest in Tokyo and all boast corner windows thanks to the hotel’s unique architecture. Décor is a mix of classic European design and modern Japanese art and amenities.
Four Seasons Tokyo at Chinzan-So
10-8, Sekiguchi 2-chome, Bunkyo-ku
Tokyo 112-8667, Japan
tel 81 3 3943 2222, fax 81 3 3943 2300
www.fourseasons.com

Grand Hyatt Tokyo at Roppongi Hills

Opened in April 2003, this sleek addition to the Grand Hyatt portfolio — located at Roppongi Hills, Tokyo’s largest private urban cultural center — is a triumph of modern design and décor. Its 389 guestrooms and suites feature Italian B&B furniture, mahogany fixtures, flat-screen TVs, high-speed Internet connections and Frette sheets. The hotel’s four Grand Club levels offer guests a dedicated concierge, business center, all-day refreshments and evening cocktails. The hotel’s Nagomi Spa and Fitness Club is staggering, with a gorgeous red granite swimming pool and eight beautifully appointed private treatment rooms. The hotel’s 10 restaurants and bars, ranging from a steakhouse to a French brasserie, are chic settings in which to enjoy delicious cuisine.
Grand Hyatt Tokyo at Roppongi Hills
6-10-3 Roppongi, Minato-ku
Tokyo 106-0032, Japan
tel 81 3 4333 1234, fax 81 3 4333 8123
www.grandhyatttokyo.com

Hotel Okura

The Hotel Okura, located in a quiet neighborhood full of foreign embassies, is a consistent favorite of business travelers thanks to its exemplary service and unique ambience. Its 858 guestrooms, including 96 suites, are comfortable if not exceptionally stylish. The hotel’s special offerings include a jet-lag program for travel-weary guests featuring special lamps, pillows and meals designed to combat that sluggish feeling. The Okura even boasts an esteemed art museum with more than 2,000 items. Admission is free for hotel guests.
Hotel Okura
2-10-4 Toranomon, Minato-ku
Tokyo 105-8416, Japan
tel 81 3 3582 0111, fax 81 3 3582 3707
www.okura.com

Apa Hotel Nishi Azabu

Just a 10-minute stroll from Roppongi Hills, this hotel for the cost-conscious is a terrific deal given its top-notch location. The rooms are simple but clean and nicely furnished, the staff is eager to help, and there’s even a modest spa. The Apa hotels are regarded in Japan as very reputable for the budget traveler — and with singles starting at around $90 (Warning: Single rooms in Japan are tiny), it may be one of the best deals in Tokyo.
Apa Hotel Nishi Azabu
4-4-5 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku
Tokyo 106-0031, Japan
tel 81 3 5766 4111, fax 81 3 5766 4112
www.apahotel.com


Dining

While traditional Japanese cuisine — soba and udon noodle dishes, yakitori and sushi — abounds in Tokyo, there are plenty of other options from around the world. Here are some favorites encompassing the best in Japanese cooking, as well as standouts in cuisine from Europe and beyond.

Gonpachi

A favorite of expats (and George W. Bush, who dined here on his last Tokyo trip) for its relaxed, festive atmosphere, Gonpachi is long on ambience and value. Downstairs you’ll find traditional yakitori and soba and udon noodle dishes in a soaring room with two-story ceilings and a wrap-around balcony, with lots of stone and dark wood accents. Upstairs there’s a wide-ranging, delectable sushi menu complete with a variety of rolls (rare in traditional Japanese sushi restaurants). Upstairs, try to score a table in the enclosed courtyard; it’s a particularly fun spot to kick back and enjoy a few of Gonpachi’s signature cocktails. $5-$12 for entrees; sushi from $3 per piece.
Gonpachi
1-13-11 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku
Tokyo 106-0031, Japan
tel 03 5771 0170 (main restaurant)
or 03 5771 0180 (sushi, third floor)

Choan

Yakitori — grilled chicken served on skewers — is one of Japan’s favorite snacks, and Choan is a yakitori junkie’s dream. The best option is the omakase (chef’s selection) course; there are a few versions, depending on how hungry you are, but a midsize portion will set you back about $25 a person. (Caveat: be sure to tell them at the outset exactly what you don’t want. When a yakitori chef says he cooks chicken, he means all of the chicken: heart, lungs, liver, and more are standard fare.) There are a few tasty salad options to supplement your meal, as well as a nice selection of shochu, a Japanese liquor that’s similar to vodka. Try one instead of — or in addition to — a cold beer.
Choan
1-12-8 Nishi Azabu
Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0031, Japan
tel 81 3 3408 1175

Elio Locanda Italiana

If you’ve had your fill of traditional Japanese cuisine and are hankering for some good old-fashioned Italian cooking, beat a path to Elio Locanda Italiana. The menu features traditional favorites like mozzarella caprese, veal tonnato and 10 varieties of homemade pasta, as well as a thoughtful wine list featuring selections from all over Italy. The warm, genuine hospitality of Elio and his staff will leave you feeling like you’re dining deep in the Italian countryside.
Elio Locanda Italiana
Hanzomon House
2-5-2 Kejimachi
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0083, Japan
tel 81 3 3239 6771
www.eliolocanda.com

Mango Tree

Located on the 35th floor of the Marunouchi building, just across the street from Tokyo Station, this spicy Thai restaurant, founded in Bangkok, features floor-to-ceiling windows that provide heart-seizing views of the city. The subtle, sophisticated décor adds to the ambience. Try the fried spicy fish cakes or the spicy lobster and crab over “glass” noodles. The house cocktails are also a treat. Entrees average $15-$30.
Mango Tree
Marunouchi Building, 35th Floor
2-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 100-6329, Japan
tel 81 3 5224 5489

New York Grill

Perched on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo, offering staggering views of the city, the New York Grill is without question one of Tokyo’s foremost see-and-be-seen venues, and arguably one of the most dazzling restaurants in the world. The open kitchen serves up a delectable variety of steaks (including succulent Japanese wagyu beef), as well as an enticing array of seafood. The salads are not to be missed, especially the Caesar. The all-California wine list offers some fabulous vintages, and there’s live jazz after 8 every evening. While it may be one of the most expensive meals you’ve ever eaten, it’s worth every penny. Entrees range from $30–$85; there’s also a great prix-fixe lunch for about $45.
New York Grill
Park Hyatt Tokyo
3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo 163-1055, Japan
tel 81 3 5322 1234
www.parkhyatttokyo.com

Sapporo Lion

The flagship location of the Lion chain, owned by Japanese beer giant Sapporo and located in the shopping neighborhood of Ginza, this popular spot boasts a genuine reassembled German beer hall. Plenty of cold beer plus snacks ranging from spaghetti to fried dumplings to sausages abound. A great place to grab a cold one and a snack after work.
Sapporo Lion
6-10-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan
tel 81 3 3571 2590

Bars & Clubs

For a big night out on the town in Tokyo, locals and foreigners alike head to Roppongi, a raucous neighborhood full of bars and clubs (and karaoke bars, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous). A fun place to ease into the evening is at Heartland in the sprawling Roppongi Hills complex (Roppongi Hills West Walk, 6-10-1 Roppongi, tel 81 3 5772 7600). A favorite of upscale expats, this sleek, always-crowded hot spot stocks a wide array of beers and a dizzying variety of cocktails. After a couple hours of rubbing elbows with dressed-down CEOs, head across the street to Alife, one of the city’s hottest nightclubs (Myojo Azabu 70 Building, 1-7-2 Nishi Azabu, tel 81 3 5785 2531). There’s a big bar on the main floor, a lounge upstairs and a dance floor (complete with a rotating schedule of DJs). The cover charge is steep ($25 to $30), but it includes two cocktails; the crowd is mainly Japanese with a mix of well-heeled foreigners. If you’re looking for good drinks, somewhat wacky décor and decent conversation, consider Muse in the nearby neighborhood of Nishi Azabu (4-1-1 Nishi Azabu; tel 81 3 5467 1188). There’s always a healthy mix of chatty expats and locals and it’s quiet enough to actually talk.


Sightseeing

Meiji Shrine

Dedicated to Emperor Meiji, the first emperor of modern Japan, this is one of the most famous shrines in Tokyo. Completed in 1920, it was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt in 1958. Located next to Yoyogi Park, the shrine is the site of many special events and festivals throughout the year. www.meijijingu.or.jp

Tsukiji Fish Market

One of the largest fish markets in the world, it handles more than 2,000 tons of seafood every day. Get there early (think 5 a.m.) to see the daily tuna auction, then wind your way through the crowded stalls to catch a glimpse of sea delicacies you’ve likely never seen before. And be sure to grab a sushi breakfast at one of the market’s sushi restaurants. www.tsukiji-market.or.jp

Tokyo Tower

Modeled after the Eiffel Tower (but almost 43 feet taller), Tokyo Tower is the largest structure in Japan —measuring almost 1,200 feet high —and the world’s tallest self-supporting steel tower. From two observatories, you can see Mount Fuji on a clear day. www.tokyotower.co.jp

Edo-Tokyo Museum

With the help of intricate scale models and life-sized reconstructions, learn how the tiny fishing village of Edo became the modern-day metropolis of Tokyo. tel 81 3 3626 9974, www.dnp.co.jp/museum/edo/edo-e.html

Ueno Zoo

The oldest zoo in Japan, dating back to 1882, this beautiful 35-acre zoo, located in sprawling Ueno Park, is home to more than 2,600 animals, including giant pandas, gorillas and tigers. tel 81 3 3828 5171, www.tokyo-zoo.net/english


Shopping

The Japanese are known for their love of luxury labels, so it’s not surprising that boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Christian Dior and others abound in Tokyo. The city’s busy Ginza district is full of Japanese department stores like Matsuzakaya and Mitsukoshi, while Omotesando, the city’s premier shopping district, is modeled on Paris’ Champs-Elysées and offers a wide array of both European and Japanese boutiques. The Prada store there is worth a visit—designed by the Swiss architectural team who designed the Tate Modern in London, it resembles a giant steel-and-glass honeycomb.

For the latest in electronics, head to the Akihabara district, where you’ll find cutting-edge cameras, computers, etc., at duty-free prices, as well as salespeople who speak English (not the case in many electronics stores throughout Tokyo). If you’re looking for traditional Japanese handicrafts, consider Japanese ceramics, which can be found at stores throughout Tokyo. (If you visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, there are some very reasonably priced ceramics outlets on the outskirts of the market.) Sake and shochu, a high-alcohol-content Japanese liquor, also abound in Tokyo; for the best selection, check out the food courts at traditional Japanese department stores like Isetan in Shinjuku (3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku).


Finding Your Way Around

International travelers arrive at Narita International Airport (NRT), about 40 miles outside of Tokyo. United, American, Continental, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, among others, offer frequent direct flights. A taxi will run you around $150; a much better bet, especially considering Tokyo’s choking traffic, is the Narita Express train. It runs directly from Narita to Tokyo Station every 30 minutes, and the trip takes just under an hour. A one-way ticket costs about $30; look for the Narita Express desk right outside customs. If you find yourself stuck at Narita for a bit, no worries: The airport offers numerous cafes, lots of shopping (including an impressive array of interesting Japanese souvenirs), even shower rooms and day rooms (for a fee) for departing and transit passengers.

Taxis in Tokyo are easy to find and upscale (drivers wear gloves and doors open and close automatically), but very expensive. Alternatively, Tokyo’s subway system, with 13 different lines, is an easy, fast way to get around the city. Tickets can be purchased from vending machines (in English); one-day passes for unlimited use of all trains and buses are available for about $15.

Visitors interested in exploring other parts of Japan during their stay should consider the Japan Rail Pass. Available only to tourists, the pass is available in seven-, 14-, and 21-day versions and allows unlimited travel on almost all trains, buses and ferries throughout Japan. Visit www.japanrailpass.net for details.

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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