After a packed 12-hour Japan Airlines flight, we land at Narita airport. Japan Airlines has great service and provided the initial glimpse of the amazingly friendly attitude of the Japanese particularly with children. We boarded a bus transfer to our hotel after having been warned that a taxi ride to the city costs $350. We quickly realized that our army of Blackberries was of no use, but that I finally was going to put my Swedish I-Phone to the test of constant use. Japan has a different mobile phone system that requires a 3G phone.
We arrived at the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the 38th floor with an awe-inspiring view of Tokyo’s bustling skyline. The view is a little like the one from mid-town Manhattan, with a similar looking river to the East River on one side and Central Park on the other, except that there are at least a dozen Manhattans with skyscrapers literally reaching the horizon everywhere you look.
This hotel in Tokyo is probably the best hotel I have ever experienced, where no detail is overlooked. With bold, exciting and tasteful architecture and décor, this Japan hotel had windows reaching from the floors up to an impressive ceiling height.
The service was outstanding where the level of attention was 100 percent, without having the feeling that you are being watched.
Prices in Tokyo are incredibly steep, particularly when it comes to food and transportation. A meal at a top-rated restaurant can easily run $250+ per person, or 2-3 times that of London, New York or Paris. Quality and price are interdependent as we noticed, having much more enjoyed a reasonably priced meal at the relaxed and quaint local restaurant Teyandei, than an exorbitantly priced meal at Kadowaki, both in the Azabu/Roppongi area. The bill for two was $80 and $600 respectively. The pricing difference was “justified” by the added Foie Gras sauce and truffles at Kadowaki, when the other ingredients consisted of mostly rice and potatoes!
It is clear that Tokyo is an extraordinary urban jungle filled with amazing surprises, yet a minefield for the uninitiated. This is where solid advice from experienced locals and expats becomes a necessity. We will strive to capture this knowledge and experience in our “A Small World” City Guide. Every turn in the wrong direction represents a lost opportunity or as we experienced a rip-off by relying on the wrong source for information. Relying on subjective advice from “concierge services” can often be risky given inherent conflicts of interests with service providers.
Our jet lag made us wake up consistently at five in the morning after only three hours sleep. We attacked the sumptuous Japanese breakfast buffet at the Mandarin Oriental every morning at the six a.m. opening, enjoying the snowy view of Mont Fuji.
We proceeded to the Tsukuji Fish market to take in the hustle and bustle of the Japanese seafood trade on a market the size of ten football fields. Giant clams the size of a small pizza, hundreds of shapes of crabs, and sea creatures never imagined made it very surreal indeed.
We ended up having a second breakfast (I had saved myself for this) at Daiwa Sushi next to the seafood stalls. This is a tiny place with the freshest fish imaginable and worth every second of the 30-minute wait in line at 7:30 in the morning. I bought some fresh sea urchin, salmon eggs and cod’s roe (Mentaiko) at the market for the mini-bar. This was consumed with my Japanese hotel breakfast the following day in full view of a few curious staffers.
Thanks to my dear old friend Satoko Yahata we spent the last day packing some precious memories of Tokyo. Satoko’s driver took us to see the Shibuya Crossing, the Meiji Shrine, a must see with its fragrant park filled with perennial trees, the Tokyo Tower, and a surreal 20 minute walk down Omotesando Avenue, the Melrose Dr/Ave Montaigne/Madison Ave of Tokyo, but way more interesting! The extraordinary but EMPTY stores gave us a chilling sense of the harsh reality gripping the world’s luxury industry. A year ago the Japanese and Asian markets were considered safe havens for the Western luxury brands. No more.
We had relaxing last night and a drink together with Christian Hassing, the extremely accomplished General Manager of the Mandarin Oriental. A few insights I came away with was the distinct lack of Western leisure clients of the hotel, (mostly Western business and Asian leisure business), and the fact that the majority of revenues comes from food and beverage sales, given that this extraordinary hotel only has 130 rooms or so. There were very few westerners at Tokyo airport, fewer than 3 percent in my estimate.
We boarded a very relaxing, yet full Air Tahiti flight the next day with another 12-hour non-stop flight to Tahiti. It was fascinating to experience the same day twice as we crossed the International dateline.