Spurred, in part, by a weak Japanese yen, visitors are flocking to Tokyo in record numbers: 13 million travelers descended on the Land of the Rising Sun in 2014. With the Tokyo Olympics five years away there’s a renewed interest in this bustling business capital. Its unique urban blend of modern and ancient, quiet and frenetic, conservative and wacky, salarymen and jetsetters—all crammed together in what is still an exciting global economic hub.
What to See
You could spend countless days exploring Tokyo’s shrines, but most people head to the peaceful Meiji Shrine, surrounded by 174 acres of forest. Then get a taste for Tokyo’s gardens by getting lost in the Shinjuku Gyoen, which features the city’s largest traditional Japanese garden. And watch for transformations to the city skyline as the Olympic buildup gets underway—get a bird’s-eye view from the Tokyo Tower’s dual-level observation deck, 490 feet above the ground. One of those Olympic venues will be Tokyo Big Sight, a massive convention center with architecturally distinctive glass and a titanium tower. In between activities, you’ll find some familiar places to relax: Two new Blue Bottle coffee shops are opening in 2015, as is the first international outlet of New York’s Dominique Ansel Bakery (presumably creating an overseas cronut craze). For something more Japanese, keep an eye out for petting cafes, which feature creatures like cats and owls. Then escape to the laid-back neighborhood of Ebisu, with its gardens and casual restaurants. Or leave the logistics up to a luxury tour operator like Michi Travel, which can personalize your exploration of the city and its hottest trends.
Navigating the Culture
Japanese customs can be so complex that the Palace Hotel Tokyo recently launched a program called “Cultivating Tokyo” to give visitors personalized, in-depth training. But many business travelers have had to learn on their own. Christina Qi, a partner at the Boston-based hedge fund Domeyard LP, says bringing an edible souvenir, like chocolate, from your home region is “a must” to help break down barriers in a culture that resists forming quick bonds with foreigners. (Fresh produce and meat are not prohibited.) Jonathan Twombly, president of Two Bridges Asset Management in Brooklyn, discovered a way to fast track the relationship process when he lived in Tokyo: using university alumni associations for introductions. “Japanese people take alumni networks very seriously,” he said. “It’s a big deal to have gone to the same school.”
Where to Entertain
You won’t have any problem finding dining spots that impress: The 2015 Michelin Guide bestowed stars on 226 Tokyo restaurants-more than any other city in the world. Celebrate Makimura’s move from two stars to three while feasting on its traditional cuisine. Or try relative newcomer La Sora Seed, which hasn’t yet won stars but has attracted attention both for the food from chef Masayuki Okuda and its 31st-floor views. For drinks with a city-lights panorama, head to the 52nd-floor rooftop bar at the Andaz Hotel—a spot that Omar Toulan, professor of business strategy at Montreal’s McGill University, enjoyed while teaching in Tokyo. Also on the 52nd floor is the New York Grill at the Park Hyatt (made famous by “Lost In Translation”). For something different, check out sumo wrestling—an apt metaphor for the business world—especially if you’re here during one of the three grand tournaments held in January, May and September. And what’s a night out without karaoke? Leave the open-room, open-mic events to others. Instead, sing with a city view in one of four private rooms at Karaoke47, on the 47th floor of the Keio Plaza Hotel.
Know Before You Go
By Barbara Fairchild
Mandarin Oriental's superb Tokyo property offers glittering views of the city skyline from all of its rooms and suites. A state-of-the-art spa on the 37th floor has five private VIP suites for even more personal pampering.
Look no further than the Mandarin Oriental itself—an outpost of Noma, chef Rene Redzepi's Copenhagen restaurant, considered by many food critics to be the best in the world, opened there in January 2015. Another option, and special enough in its own right, is Takazawa, which seats only 10 people a night (yes, you read that right) for its sophisticated modern French-Japanese cooking in a jewel-box setting.
Enjoy a "Lost in Translation" moment at the hotel where the movie was filmed, the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Its New York Bar specializes in Champagne, the perfect sparkling complement to the sparkling nighttime view. Besides glasses of bubbly, there's a Champagne cocktail menu where you can sip libations made with green tea and other Asian flourishes.
Noted sake brewer Fukumitsuya has a boutique at the Midtown Galleria. It's easy to pick up a special bottle to take back home, but the shop also sells unique food and personal products that incorporate sake.
Jet lag got the best of you? Take advantage of being wide awake in those early morning hours with a walk through the city's fascinating Tsukiji fish market—the world's largest and busiest.