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Tokyo – Sushi & Sumo

Tokyo – Fam Trip Report, February 2005

The first thing you notice upon landing at Narita Airport is
the sheer enormity of the urban sprawl that is home to the 10 million people that live in Tokyo.
The second is the extreme efficiency in which the Japanese surround their daily lives. It is a long
way from Narita to Tokyo and this explains the lack of private transfers, most people either take the train or
the airport limousine (actually a coach) into town. On arrival we bought our tickets in the arrivals hall and
then boarded a coach which turned up exactly on time 5 minutes later, our luggage was tagged with our destination
and we took in the strange mix of industrial areas and low rise residential homes that border the motorway.
One and a half hours later we arrived at our hotel and our luggage was waiting for us on the pavement and was then
scooped up by the hotel porters before we knew what was happening.

This sort of experience was replicated every time we used public
transport or needed anything to be on time, if the Swiss are known for their time keeping then Tokyo should
be in a league of its own. What is also very obvious is how clean everything, there are not many places you
go where you regularly see people washing the underground train walls! There is also a sense of practicality
about Japanese life, for example there is always a public convenience when you need one.

Tokyo itself was not quite what I was expecting – a huge cyber
city with a glimpse of the way we may be living in the future – it is more pockets of high rise building
and neon lights within what are more simple residential areas. There are very distinct districts and it
seems that the city landscape is changing all the time. It is not uncommon to be in a park looking one way
onto lakes and trees while behind you is a vista of huge sky scrapers and new apartments.

Tokyo manages to pack a lot of different experiences into one city; traditional customs
and hospitality lie alongside designer shops and the latest gadgets which makes it a fascinating destination for any traveller. A great
way to get into the pace of the country is to go and watch a Sumo match or training session. This is Japans number one sport along with
baseball. There are only about 800 professional Sumo wrestlers in the whole of Japan and most of them live in Sumo Stables associated
with one of the 5 stadiums. You can take a small group along to watch as they practise in front of the watchful eye of their trainer.
The aim of the fight is to get your opponent to fall over or step foot outside the circular ring. There is no weight limit so you may
be fighting someone twice your size. Even if you are not interested in the sport it gives you a good idea of the hierarchy that also
exists with Japanese society. They all have extreme respect for both their trainer and the more senior wrestlers, no one speaks and
they only nod when they are given advice. Be warned though once you have entered the room you are expected to sit on the tatami floor
until the end of the session which is slightly crippling to people not used to it!

Another good trip is an early morning visit to the fish market. Tokyo has the largest fish market
in the world and it is quite an eye opener to go and see it in full swing. There is a lively auction and row upon row of tiny stalls selling
the widest range of seafood you will ever see. Due to the time (4am is the best time to go) there are very few tourists and you feel a part of
the daily life of the people who work there. There are also some fabulous sushi restaurants if you can stomach it so early!

Another thing I did not realise about Japan was the enormous range of cooking styles and each one has its own
dedicated restaurant so even if you had a group there for 5 days you could eat a different style of Japanese food each day! My favourite was the Tapanyaki
restaurant where ladies dressed in kimonos serve you thin slices of Kobe beef cooked in front of you in a soy sauce and sugar soup. All meals are usually accompanied
by several dishes and washed down with one of the great four beers and some green tea. Due to the ceremony of the meals and the great hospitality of the Japanese people
(nearly all restaurants have several private rooms) it is easy to find venues to take groups for dinner.

There are also some good private venue options including museums, and Happonen Gardens.
Here it is possible to visit the bonsai gardens, take part in a traditional tea ceremony or wear a traditional kimono. The later
is a great way to finish a trip to Tokyo and would work for small groups as it takes quite along time to get everyone dressed but
the experience is great and everyone looks very different. A tea ceremony is also an important part of the Japanese culture and most
people take part in 2-3 a year. The ceremony takes place in a small room with everyone sitting on the floor, the green tea is brewed
and served by ladies in kimonos and must follow a strict ritual. As you are served the tea you must turn the bowl twice, never have
the pattern facing you and rest the cup on the palm of your left hand, you must finish all your tea and then put the bowl on the floor.

When staying in Tokyo it is important to select a hotel near the district that you want to
see or have meetings in as it can take quite a long time to cross Tokyo in rush hour. There is a huge range of accommodation on offer
from the more traditional to the minimalist. One thing that is good value in Tokyo is hotel accommodation and you can stay in a good
five star for around £150 a night. There are of course mush more expensive properties like the Park Hyatt (where Lost in Translation
was filmed) but in my opinion a drink in the bar at sunset looking out towards Mount Fuji is a good enough taste of this hotel without
paying the high prices to stay there. I stayed at the Royal Park Hotel and the Palace Hotel both good products with everything that you
expect from a five star hotel and more. All hotels have enormous amounts of meeting space as the Japanese love to have banquets.
This makes placing a meeting in Tokyo easy as you have a great range of venues to chose from and can therefore ensure that you
get value for money.

I think Tokyo is an interesting an accessible city in which to hold an
event. The flight time is only 12 hours making a trip here is easier than say Bangkok or Hong Kong although
there is not quite the same atmosphere as the society is slightly more regimented. The service levels are outstanding
and you feel that they would bend over backwards to accommodate your every need. The strong cultural traditions make
it an easy destination to hold an incentive and this coupled with a day trip to Mount Fuji or Kyoto would provide a
balanced view of Japan. The government is actively involved in promoting Japan to overseas business visitors and therefore
willing to provide information and help groups to be placed there.

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