A Trip Down Memory Lane
Japan. My first visit in some six years to a country where I lived for two years and commuted to for five from Hong Kong: My son was born there. So I can say that my relation to Tokyo Japan is close.
A Hospital Mix-Up
Those of us who lived in Tokyo Japan in the early ’90s remember it fondly as a place where your secretary (yes, they existed in those years) would lobby the TV station during the week to ensure the England vs Scotland rugby match was screened live as opposed to Ireland vs France in the days when all matches were played at the same time and satellite TV was in its infancy. It’s not that long ago! Oh and Jamie (my son) was twice the average newborn weight when he arrived in this world, and they then took him away for 12 hours so mum and dad could recover. It just so happened that another gaijin (foreign) baby was delivered that night, so the nursery gave us the first Caucasian baby they came across. We handed him right back.
So in my sporadic returns to Tokyo Japan – every five or six years – it is magnificent to measure the change or lack of it. Our offices were in an area called Toranomon next door to a famous sword shop. Both are still standing although behind them 55 floors of Toranomon Hills have arisen with the magnificent Andaz hotel at the top. Five minutes in the other direction and the ancient Okura Hotel is still standing – all six floors of it. But not for long; it is about to be demolished and probably 60 floors will replace it. So a visit to the hotel’s Orchid Bar was mandatory. The place has an end of years feel about it; Tokyo Japan is cutting-edge chic and announcing impending demolition doesn’t do much for the ratings. So we head to the Grand Hyatt and the infamous Oak Door to be greeted by cigar-smoking, pouting Mayumi San. What does she do, I asked my pal Fergus. Not sure, came the reply, but for the next two hours Mayumi San introduced us to a succession of people from a French wine dealer to a local bar owner. Best to stay on her good side when in Tokyo.
Always fly into Haneda if possible. It’s finally taking international flights and is a short trip into the city, unlike Narita. Although I sort of miss the coach trip into Tokyo from Narita with the lovely, perfect English announcements such as “please refrain from using your mobile phones but if absolutely necessary, kindly (light cough) keep your voice politely low.” It’s the cough that does it: a perfect refrain. From Haneda it’s the old monorail and at this time of year half the passengers are masked. Not because of any pollution but to stop spreading their own germs if coming down with a light cold. And it’s deadly silent. Commuting or any form of train travel in Japan is a serious business. It’s valuable peaceful thinking time and not to be treated lightly. On the subway in Tokyo you can no longer speak on your mobile (hooray) and there is Wi-Fi in all stations. Even better.
The Taxi Conundrum
Then we get to the tricky part. Taxis. Small queue but it still speeds up the process if you are second in the queue to walk to the second taxi whilst the first one takes on passengers. Not in Tokyo. Any boarding has to take place in the designated place. Except my taxi driver refused to pick up a gaijin. Crikey, this reminded me of being denied entry to a shelter on Mount Fuji on the grounds of being non-Japanese. Taxi drivers seem to occupy some exalted social position in Japanese hierarchy. On my return to Haneda I asked the hotel doorman to ask the taxi driver to stop off at an ATM machine so I could obtain some Yen. The taxi driver’s face suggested that his entire family had been the victims of a Samurai warrior attack whilst he was on duty. I duly walked to the nearest ATM and then got another taxi. Everything in its place!
Where to Stay
Our Chic Collection partner hotel is Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills and it’s stunning. I think it’s great value for what it offers and with a slightly more laid back approach compared to many hotels in Tokyo Japan: it’s a fabulous option on business or pleasure. I also dropped by the new Aman in Otemachi, which has just opened. It’s in an entirely different league than most hotels. 85 rooms and with stunning views over the Imperial Palace. It offers the one commodity that is rare in Japan: space. Yes, it’s more expensive than anywhere remotely comparable but if you can afford it, go for it. You may never go back to Tokyo again! Other favourites include Mandarin Oriental, albeit in a rather dull part of the financial district, The Peninsula for the Ginza and infinite shopping, and Grand Hyatt and Ritz Carlton for Roppongi and the all-night nightlife that comes with it.
You cannot eat a bad meal in Tokyo. It’s all good. I found a simple Yakitori (chicken) restaurant near Andaz on my first night and it was great value. Lunchtime sushi near Tokyo Station the next day – simple and great value. The Tsukiji market for even better sushi the next day – packed with tourists, but you will never find better sushi anywhere in the world. Finally, slightly off-piste to a Spanish restaurant in Sangubashi on my last night that I used to frequent 20 years ago when I lived there. It was a joy to find it still there but sad to hear of the founder’s death six years ago. RIP Francisco.