Japan’s vibrant, spirited, and stimulating capital, Tokyo, is famously a city that never sleeps, but tonight it’s taking a gentle nap. My friend Mike and I wander the streets of Ginza, a renowned shopping district normally flooded with pedestrians on a Saturday night, though there’s nary a soul in sight. A handful of locals hugging each other tightly rush to a cab as the heavens above unleash a spatter of rain-drops. It happens that we arrived on the eve of Super Typhoon Phanfone, which was hot on the heels of our flight from Los Angeles. A Super Typhoon is like a tropical storm on steroids, and, already, we knew it would wreak havoc on our vacation.
But, as it turns out, Tokyo is a resilient city. After a huge blow from the recession that lasted six strong years, and a fatal tsunami up north that also affected Tokyo’s economy, the city known for its sparkle and charm finally said enough. It took reign of its economy, opened its first hotel since the recession, and banged out myriad new attractions. The typhoon, interestingly, lasted only one full day; chased away by the famous rising sun that now gleamed over the city. Tokyo had unabashedly emerged from its power nap, fully recharged, and whole-heartedly com- mitted to its agenda of returning to its iconic splendor.
Home to a population upward of 14 million, Tokyo, one of the largest cities in the world, is wildly progressive with emerging neighborhoods, a forward-thinking sensibility, and a gay scene that’s more welcoming to visitors than in years past. With the economy now in hyper-drive, and businesses and attractions opening seemingly every day, visitors are flocking here in record numbers.
Getting here has become easier for the eight million annual visitors with new terminals and renovations, and airlines amping their services. All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s leading airline that debuted a brand-new Boeing 777-300ER that makes travel to Tokyo more enjoyable (Tokyo was notorious for having older model planes in and out of the destination). ANA was recently awarded a five-star airline ranking from Skytrax in 2013 and 2014, the first for a Japanese carrier and the highest achievable mark.
There’s also a refreshed sense of pride in the city, one that points toward Summer Olympics 2020, a global event in which the Tokyo Metropolitan government is investing approximately $3 billion. Planning responsibly ahead (a trademark of the Japanese), the city is providing a more advanced transportation process with a new railway line slated to link both airports (Haneda and Narita), cutting travel times to Tokyo Station substantially (36 minutes from Narita, as opposed to the current 55 minutes, for example).
Speaking of Tokyo Station, it’s the city’s most famous station since 1914, and the only “station city” in the world merging tradition, culture, art, business, and tourism. There’s a hotel, retail, restaurants, residences, and plenty of facilities to make it an attraction in itself. The station recently completed a massive preservation and restoration project, and it’s constantly expanding with businesses and sky-kissing towers, though the most exciting addition is Tokyu Hands (Daimaru Tokyo Building 8-10F, Marunouchi. Tel: 81-03-5220-7109. www.tokyu-hands.co.jp), a department store that Martha Stewart claimed as her favorite. Shoppers can find all the interesting and often unusual gadgets and accessories Tokyo is known for producing (eg: portable travel toilet bags), in addition to stationary, beauty products, clothing, and electronics on more than eight levels.
Tokyo is chockablock with commercial complexes, and new centers continue to open all the time. The most notable is the former Manseibashi Station, recently transformed into a cool commercial facility in September 2013. Maach Ecute (1-25-4 Kanda Suda-cho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3257- 8910. www.maach-ecute.jp) is famed for its redbrick Masneibashi viaduct, while other aspects of the station are carefully preserved. Even two sets of stairs were opened to the public for the first time in 70 years (the structure had stopped functioning as a station in 1943). Visitors can expect retail, restaurants, cafés, and, of course, decades-old architecture.
Giving Shinjuku, Roppongi, and Shibuya a run for their money, Toranomon Hills is destined to be an easy competitor for Tokyo’s “Next Top Neighborhood.” It’s an historic district that’s still home to local craftsmen and kimono shops though ongoing developments have catapulted Toronomon Hills on every visitor’s radar as it’s slated as the epicenter of the Olympic Games. The main road is being designed as the Champs Élysées of Tokyo, with outdoor bars, cafés, and high-end shopping, and the Olympic Village will bring well-deserved attention to this sleepy part of town. For now, the anchor of the district is the new Andaz Tokyo (1-23-4, Toranomon, Minato-ku. Tel: 81- 36830-1234. www.tokyo.andaz.hyatt.com. Rooms from $340), opened this past summer and already the city’s newest landmark. Inside a brand-new Mori tower, the Andaz Tokyo takes up the 47-52 floors of this glittery high-rise that also comprises residences, office space, shops, and restaurants.
Andaz Tokyo merges past and future with its modern, contemporary approach. After the elevators (adorned with edgy paper art) ascend to the 47th-floor lobby, guests are whisked away to a “living room” rather than a formal check-in desk where modern art-like sculptures and paintings enhance the chic atmosphere. The adjacent lounge and restaurant also give an eyeful with ceiling sculptures and floor-to-ceiling windows that provide breathless views of the city.
The vistas are equally commanding from all 164 guest rooms and suites, which are atypically spacious (540 square feet) for a city known for small quarters. Décor is a contemporary take on traditional Japanese aesthetics (sliding partitions, low tables and beds, paper lanterns) with spa-like bathrooms equipped with high-end electronic toilets.
The spa, sprawling the entire 37th floor, has become the hotel’s headlining attraction with fresh fruit and herbs plucked from the hotel’s onsite garden, a 65-foot-long heated indoor pool, and an adjacent high-tech gym.
Also new is Aman Tokyo (1-5-6 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 65-6883-2555. www.amanresorts.com. Rooms from $640), which opened this past December and is the first city hotel for Aman Resorts. Located in the Otemachi financial district, Aman Tokyo is as refined, sumptuous, and luxurious as you would expect from the exclusive boutique chain. Boasting scenic views from the 33-38 floors of the Otemachi Tower, Aman Tokyo treats its brand-loyal guests with an indoor garden and engaging art pieces, including the lobby centerpiece, a 100-foot architecture feature that resembles the interior of a Japanese paper lantern. Wine enthusiasts appreciate the walk-in wine cellar stocking more than 1,200 hand-selected wines, while spa lovers take sanctuary in the expansive wellness facility with yoga studio, Japanese hot baths, Pilates studio, and 100-foot swim- ming pool. All 84 rooms and suites feature a deep-soaking tub and views facing either the Imperial Palace Gardens or Tokyo Skytree, the tallest building in Japan.