Business trip: Tokyo
Mount Fuji looms above Tokyo's Shibuya district. (Chris Winkler/Flickr/Getty)
Tokyo has emerged from the dark days following Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami, re-assuming its position as an Asian hotspot for business travel. You can see it everywhere, – in the recent spate of new hotel openings, expanding airports and buzzy restaurants and hotel lobbies. The scaffolding has come down after a massive facelift of the iconic Tokyo Station in the heart of the city, and the new Tokyo Skytree tower gleams on the edge of town, attracting millions.
Despite Japan’s 20-year-long recession, Tokyo’s business class hotel scene is dynamic, with a raft of new players. In the last decade, big international chains such as Shangri-La, Peninsula, Hyatt, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Ritz-Carlton have moved in, dominating the luxury hotel scene. Japanese companies are reclaiming their turf by tearing down old standards and putting new hotels in their place, such as the Tokyo Station Hotel (2012), the Palace Hotel (2012) and the Capitol Hotel Tokyu (2010).
To get your bearings, the centre of Tokyo’s sprawl is the Chiyoda district – the area around the Imperial Palace and gardens – a 3.5sqkm green space (and residence of the Emperor Akihito and his wife Empress Michiko). Districts of note for business travellers include Marunouchi (to the east of the palace), Roppongi and Shibuya (to the southwest) and Shinjuku (to the west) – these are the areas with the most international hotels, multinational offices and western-style restaurants. All are very well connected by the efficient (but bewildering to visitors) Tokyo Metro system. For those without the time to figure out the Metro, taxis are plentiful, clean, but very expensive – you’ll pay 710 yen just to get in – so when possible choose a hotel near your meetings or events.
A sparkling new international terminal, a fourth runway, proximity to the city centre and an increasing number of international arrivals have combined to transform Tokyo’s Haneda International into the preferred airport for most business travellers. Prior to 2010, Haneda was primarily Tokyo’s domestic hub because most international operations took place at distant Narita International Airport. But Haneda is located just 14km south of city with taxi fares in the 7,000 to 9,000 yen range, vs 20,000 to 25,000 yen from Narita, located 60km away. Depending on when flights arrive or depart (and traffic), train service to/from Haneda is often less expensive (at 500 to 600 yen), and quicker than driving (it only takes about 30 minutes). The hour-long ride on the train to/from Narita costs 2,940 yen. Coach service to/from both airports from certain large hotels is also available – inquire at your hotel regarding schedules.
Tokyo’s newest luxury hotel re-opened in October 2012 in an unusual location – inside the historic, recently renovated Tokyo Station in Marunouchi, where Japan’s famous high-speed Shinkansen “bullet” trains dart to major cities across the country. The 150-room Tokyo Station Hotel offers European-style elegance (marble floors, vaulted ceilings, heavy moulding) plus state-of-the-art facilities in a central location. The 100-year-old space, located inside the unusual red brick Gothic station building, was closed for a complete overhaul in 2006. The very best rooms are the 65sqm Maisonettes, which are divided into two storeys including a living room and bedroom.
In five short years, the 314-room Peninsula Tokyo in Marunouchi has emerged as one of Tokyo’s most popular luxury hotels, with cool, contemporary, oversized rooms that glow in warm hues of gold, rust and beige. There is also the Peninsula chain’s trademark in-room push-button technology that can do just about everything, such as closing curtains, drying nails, dimming bathroom lights and turning on spa music for baths. Even if you don’t stay here, have a meal and soak up the Imperial Palace garden views from a table at the flashy, avant-garde restaurant Peter on the 24th floor – considered one of the best (and showiest) in town.
Opened in May 2012, the 290-room Palace Hotel Tokyo is located on some of the city’s most valuable real estate in Marunouchi – across a moat and fountain-filled plaza from the Imperial Palace and gardens. It is so close to the palace that special blinds are placed on some windows of the 23-storey building to prevent peeping into the royal grounds. Many of the hotel’s contemporary-styled rooms have outdoor terraces (rare for Tokyo) and open style bathrooms. Don’t feel like venturing out in the elements? No problem: the hotel has 10 restaurants and bars and a bright 127sqm fitness centre with an indoor pool; plus the Otemachi Metro station is in the basement.