July 20, 2019   12:20am
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Asia Report: Tokyo

Just back from a two week trip to Asia, Susan (our intrepid traveler) is back with a word on her previously posted Asia Report: Tokyo.

Harriett:

Just back from a two week trip to Asia, with the original intent to travel from Hong Kong to Shanghai and finally Tokyo. Upon departure from the U.S. we remained open to a Tokyo stop but as events unfurled, came to the conclusion that it would be inappropriate to visit Tokyo for pleasure, at this time. Had conflicting emotions as Tokyo will want and need our support in the coming months – so I hope my ill-timed Tokyo post below will provide future inspiration to snoety readers. The Japanese word for the current sensibility is “jishuko” – meaning a general restraint – where ceremonies and recreational events have been curtailed or canceled. As the weeks go on, this feeling is starting to lift and life is returning to normal. It is with this expectation that we hope to visit Tokyo as soon as possible.

Hong Kong and Shanghai were as fabulous as ever – I urge snoety readers to visit both and hope my recent posts on these cities will prove helpful. Due special mention are the hotel properties in both cities who more than graciously accommodated our schedule changes, especially the Intercontinental Hong Kong (find space and a warm welcome back despite being at near capacity) and also Hyatt on the Bund Shanghai. Both remain fabulous places to stay. New finds in both cities will be shared with snoety in the future.

Susan

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Tokyo is a city of contradictions: complex, cosmopolitan, contemporary, but with peaceful and exquisite gardens, temples and shrines; hip women dressed in the edgiest of fashions and others in kimonos attending traditional ceremonies. For anyone interested in architecture, design, fashion and also with a love for retail – as shopping is a main pastime – it is the place to go. It is also one of the safest places in the world to visit, where both people and their personal property are highly respected and where graciousness and politeness rules.

Overview: Tokyo is vast, but easily understood if viewed by the distinct areas which make it up: Roppongi, the Ginza, Central Tokyo, Omotesando & Harajuku, Ueno & Asakusa and Shinjuku, etc. As a first step, use a good guidebook such as Frommers Tokyo (very approachable). Other favorites are Lonely Planet Tokyo City Guide and Time Out Tokyo. To carry, these are musts: DK Top Ten Tokyo and Kodansha Press Tokyo City Atlas: A Bilingual Guide City. For design enthusiasts, TeNeues Cool Shops Tokyo and TeNeues Tokyo A+D Guide are essential (the latter out of print but still available). For more on architecture, good websites are: www.tokyotarchitecture.info and www.bento.com. One could spend weeks here and not be bored; a trip of at least 5 nights/4 days is recommended (and can be paired with a several day trip to Kyoto just a few hours away on the bullet train).

Getting Around: Luckily the Tokyo Metro system is far-reaching and easy to navigate – signs are in English as well as Japanese, announcements are made in English on many lines (www.tokyometro.jp.en). Tip: Before exiting any metro station, study the maps that identify specific exits by number and landmark to orient yourself. The aforementioned “City Atlas” is very useful, and your hotel will also print out bilingual maps to almost any destination and direct you accordingly. Taxis are great (think white-gloved drivers) but very expensive.

What to Do: It would be impossible to provide a comprehensive guide to Tokyo here, but favorite places include:

• Omotesando & Harajuku: Home to Herzog and de Meuron’s Prada store, Toyo Ito’s Tod’s store and numerous Issey Miyake outposts, among much else, a visit to Omotesando is essential. In Tadao Ando’s space-age retail mecca, Omotesando Hills (www.omotesandohills.com/english), are many eateries where you can join well-heeled locals for lunch (favorite is Mist, a high-style ramen shop imported from Hong Kong (www.chabuya.com/eng/mist). Make sure to walk the side streets in this neighborhood for all manner of hip, funky shops and very inventively dressed young men and women. Redeem yourself from retail excess by a visit to the Meiji Shrine accessed by the park the end of Omotesando (but do not miss the fashion show of young people at the crossing).

• Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Midtown, The National Art Center, Tokyo: Named an “Art Triangle,” starting with the Roppongi Hills retail complex (www.roppongihills.com/en), anchored by the Mori Art Museum (incredible views from the galleries in this sky-high tower) (www.mori.art.museum/en); continuing to the Tokyo Midtown complex (www.tokyo-midtown.com/en) housing high-end shops and eateries (New Yorkers can revisit Union Square Café and Dean & Deluca) as well as the Suntory Art Museum (www.suntory.com) and Design-Sight 21_21 (a separate Tadao Ando building with design exhibits curated by Issey Miyake) (www.design-sight.com) and ending with Kisho Kurokawa’s exquisite National Art Center (worth a visit even if no exhibits appeal, with a great gift store in the basement) (www.nact.jp/english); makes for a full and rewarding day.

• Asakusa: If Omotesando is all about fashion, and Roppongi about art, then a visit to Asakusa will give you a much needed dose of old Japan. At the end of the wonderful trinket shop-lined Nokamise street is the Senso-ji Temple, not to be missed. The side streets are also fun to wander, and not far away is Kappabashi Kitchenware Town where all sorts of cookware as well as plastic models of food, seen in restaurants all over, can be found. Recommended routing is to take the metro to Asakusa and return via a boat ride on the Sumida River from the Azumbashi Bridge – a great way to get a different perspective of the city – ending up at the beautiful Hama Rikyu Gardens.

• Unusual Museums: For some different museum experiences, visit the small, privately owned Kite Museum (www.tako.gr.jp.eng) and the Museum of Advertising and Marketing (www.admt.jp.en) with a great historical exhibit of Japanese advertising through the decades (from way back) and temporary exhibits.

Dining Tips: Restaurants serve specific types of Japanese food – so decide in advance if you are interested in sushi, tempura, yakitori, soba, etc. Eating in shopping malls and department store restaurant floors is common practice. Pictures and/or plastic models of food are very useful in venues with Japanese-only menus. Failing pictures or models, point to what someone is eating – and you will be served (usually with a smile)! In higher-end restaurants, menus will be bilingual as they will in those serving international food – Italian, French, Thai, etc. – which can be found all around town. And your hotel will, of course, have a range of dining options. Special Mention: New Yorkers might recall Honmura An, fabulous soba in Soho, which closed several years ago. Now relocated to Roppongi (www.honmuraantokyo.com/en) – you will get a warm welcome and terrific food. If you want a very special meal, try a kaiseki dinner – small courses served one-by-one, each a work of art.

Where to Stay: There are a wealth of hotel options in Tokyo – but my favorite for vibe and location is the Grand Hyatt Tokyo at Roppongi Hills (www.hyatt.com) with beautifully designed rooms, an exquisite pool/spa area and good restaurants. It is at the epicenter of much of what is new in Tokyo, with easy access everywhere. Highly advised: spring for the Club Floor, with access to a high-style lounge for breakfast, all-day refreshment and a cocktail hour – valuable given the price of a glass of wine (or a cup of coffee) in a Tokyo restaurant – plus there is helpful staff on hand for all necessary arrangements and maps. The Park Hyatt of “Lost In Translation” fame is exquisite, but removed from the action in Shinjuku, albeit amid gorgeous government buildings. Go there for a cocktail for a fabulous setting with a breathtaking view.

The above barely scratches the surface, but hope it is enough to entice you to Tokyo. Share your finds with us at snoety.com!

Susan

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