Traveling in Tokyo
Polite, proper, and precise. These are words that immediately come to mind when describing my trip to Japan, a country like no other. There is a correctness and cleanliness seen in no other part of the world. Having visited once before on business, I can’t say I truly experienced or understood Japanese culture, but after two weeks I have an appreciation and thirst to explore more of this amazing country in the very near future. Here’s why.
Easy in and out
After deciding this trip was long overdue, I knew I wanted a central location, and after only a few minutes of research, I decided that the Tokyo Station vicinity would be the perfect location for my Japanese adventure. Food, drink, shopping, massage, a plethora of choices beside the railway tracks, sending you in all directions, as fast as possible (more on that train here). Whether you are looking for a bit of sushi or phenomenal shopping at Daimaru, a mall consisting of 13 floors, you will find it in Tokyo Station. I even had a chair massage on the 12th floor after some bubbly with views on the top floor at The Bar and Café.
Hospitality on the Horizon
With a pin marked on Tokyo Station, deciding on my sleeping quarters was easy. Having seen the number of five-star awards and recognition’s over the years, I knew the Shangri-La, Tokyo would be my palatial home for my luxurious vacation splurge. A tranquil retreat is a must when visiting any metropolitan city, and this hotel provided the pampering I needed after long days of sights and excursions throughout the “land of the rising sun.” I am a huge believer in hotels that offer club access or lounges (there is usually a slight up-charge, but the benefits are huge), and the Horizon Club was one of the best ever. It offered breakfast, refreshments, afternoon tea, and of course, complimentary cocktail hour, which is the perfect start to your night before you head out on the town for an evening in Tokyo.
There are so many districts and areas to explore, but quickly you will learn that it’s easier to maneuver through this large metropolitan city is then you would think. I am a fan of the Roppongi area, which is great if you like to enjoy a plethora of nightclubs and bars and experience Tokyo nightlife. I wanted to see what all the buzz was in the Harajuku neighborhood with its pop culture scene, and though it seemed like teenage mania to me, I can say I’ve been there now. I had another agenda when I picked the Shangri-La as my hotel, as it is in close proximity to the Ginza neighborhood, one of Tokyo’s premiere shopping districts–quite upscale, more my style. Not only does this area scream glamour and shopping, it has incredible restaurants, bars, and any type of cuisine or dish you could desire.
A5-doesn’t get any better
No, this is not a highway or exit number, this is a grade of beef–the highest grade given to the finest beef in the world. I had three types of A5 one evening, and I splurged numerous times on Japanese Wagyu. When it melts in your mouth, you know why (and your arteries will too). You don’t need much, as it is very fatty, but for a meat connoisseur like me, it’s the best of the best, there is no beef better, period. Maruushi Meat was one of my favorite places for casual yakiniku (grilled meat) focusing on rare cuts of Wagyu beef (and has five locations to choose from). Another great meat indulgence that I enjoyed was Japanese BBQ Yazawa, which is easy to find and very close to Tokyo Station. I loved watching the chefs as they butchered my selection of Wagyu meat which were then delivered raw for me to cook for myself in this cozy setting of pure beef indulgence. While you can eat some of the best beef anywhere in the city, there are traditional American style locations also. I had the urge to visit one of my absolute favorites from NYC, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse (not to be confused with Mr. Wolfgang Puck), which has many locations to choose from.
Sushi or sashimi are the other staple and are easy to find at dining locations everywhere you turn. One of the best Japanese meals ever was at the Nadaman, inside the Shangri-La Hotel. Overall, I had so many great sushi bar experiences by just wandering the streets of Tokyo, and I truly believe this is the way to find some of your favorite dining experiences and fondest memories.
Shangri-La Horizon Club
This bar stool costs what?
While my evenings began with complimentary Champagne and canapés at the Horizon Club at the Shangri-La, exploring the Japanese cocktail culture was my mission after bubbles. Time to hit the town! It took me a bit to come to terms with a “cover charge” as I wasn’t in Vegas spending the evening in a nightclub. It’s not everywhere, and sometimes you may not even notice it, but “cover charges” are common here. It is more common at your small, exclusive drinking establishments where this fee ranges from 300 yen to 1200 yen ($3 to $11 USD). This charge basically buys your bar stool for the evening.
If you are a craft cocktail and mixology buff, one of my favorites was Bar High Five, a sensory experience for sure as you watch these skillful alcohol architects create delightful drinks of epic sensational satisfaction. Star Bar Ginza was also a favorite, where I partook in some great Japanese whiskey, a must when in Japan. After roaming and enjoying the numerous stand-up bars and other places to enjoy drinks throughout Tokyo, make sure to check out The Lobby Lounge at the Shangri-La, as you will enjoy the comprehensive drink menu accompanied by a spectacular setting–there’s nothing better than a piano serenading you as you enjoy the Tokyo skyline.
Give me a break
Sightseeing can be exhausting, and CHI, the spa at the Shangri-La provided the hotel luxury experience I always enjoy–this one is as first class as you can get. But you can’t visit Japan without visiting an onsen, which is a hot spring usually built around a resort. There are thousands in Japan and it is such a relaxing experience to help ease those aching tourist trekking body parts. Make sure to read the rules closely, as proper attire is important and exposure of body art and tattoos is strictly forbidden at many. Ooedo Onsen Tokyo is a great one in the heart of Tokyo, worth a visit after a busy day seeing the sights.
The world will be watching
The Olympics, winter or summer, have always been on my wish list to attend. There’s no doubt Paris 2024 will see me, but why not go earlier, as Tokyo 2020 is right around the corner! I was so impressed by the preparations, signage, and displays throughout the city that it is on my list for next summer, how about you? See you at the Shangri-La!