For almost 20 years, Mayako Sumiyoshi has been stationed behind the hotel concierge desk, dishing travel advice to tourists who are new to the city and seasoned travellers alike. Working in the hospitality industry, she has her finger on the pulse of Tokyo – popular sight-seeing destinations, food and beverage establishments, cultural activities and workshops. Local chief concierges like herself can, perhaps, offer better advice than mere travel guidebooks and forums.
Over the years, she's observed a trend in seasoned travellers. They "tend to be quite discerning with their travel planning and seek the more exclusive" destinations.
Sumiyoshi has a mental archive of these alternative sight-seeing destinations. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, for instance, "offers a great vantage point from which to take in views of the city without having to pay admission. But its location is a little bit out of the way."
There are two towers to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, and both have their own observatory decks on the 45th floor. To get there by public transport, alight at the Shinjuku metro station. The buildings are a short 10 minutes walk from the station. At the lobby, there's a dedicated elevator that will bring visitors straight up to the observatory.
Yasufumi Nishi/ JNTO
The observatory deck at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
"As long as we can put overseas travellers at east about how to get to those places, gain access and communicate without too much difficulty, and easily get back to the hotel at the end of the day, they are more than happy to stray off the beaten path," Sumiyoshi chirps.
On the left, the Tokyo Sky Tree, also what Sumiyoshi calls the contemporary counterpart to the famed Tokyo Tower.
To take in the cityscape of Tokyo, Sumiyoshi also recommends paying a visit to the observation decks of the famous Tokyo Tower and Tokyo SkyTree. For a fresh vantage point of the city, she directs guests to the "Tokyo City View at Roppongi Hills because the views are quite breathtaking from its observation facility". After travellers are done with their sight-seeing from the 52nd-floor observatory deck, they can continue their adventure in the immediate district. "Roppongi Hills has a great array of shops, cafés and restaurants as well as cinemas and an art museum".
The Marunouchi district. Here, many buildings offer a bird's eye view of the Imperial Palace and its gardens.
And yet, that's not all. There are even more reclusive sight-seeing destinations. "If it's primarily about views, few people (including locals) know that the Idemitsu Museum in [the] neighbourhood of Marunouchi actually offers great views of the Imperial Palace gardens and moats."
The Idemitsu Museum of Arts is housed on the ninth floor of the Imperial Theatre building, which is within walking distance from the Tokyo metro station. An adult's ticket is priced at 1,000 yen (approximately S$12). From the glass windows of the museum, visitors get a bird's eye view of the oblong moat surrounding the Imperial Palace, its sanctuaries, and gardens.
Next to the Idemitsu Museum of Arts is another hidden spot, the Marunouchi Building, "which has a publicly accessible, 35th-floor outdoor deck". From there, visitors get "terrific views of the landmark Tokyo Station, the Imperial Palace gardens and moats, Tokyo Tower, and even the Rainbow Bridge all the way in Odaiba".
Palace Hotel Tokyo
Sumiyoshi recommends that travellers time their visit to the Marunouchi district and end their day at the Palace Hotel Tokyo's Lounge Bar Privé, especially during sunset.
At the end of a day out in the Imperial Gardens, Sumiyoshi recommends that travellers stop by her workplace, the Palace Hotel Tokyo's "6th-floor Lounge Bar Privé" right before the sun sets. Visitors will be able to enjoy dinner while "soak[ing] in views of the Imperial Palace gardens – particularly as the sun is setting".
Beyond sight-seeing, when hotel guests inquire for cultural activities they can participate in, Sumiyoshi recommends that they take a trip to the "Sumida area of the city". Since the Edo period, the Sumida ward has served as the traditional crafts hub of Tokyo. From the tourist information centre located at the Sumida City Point, visitors can sign up for workshops and try their hand at making paper folding screens, traditional wooden dolls, paper lanterns, and glassware.
For a trendy take on Tokyo, Sumiyoshi recommends the Shimokitazawa and Jiyugaoka districts. She frequently receives enquiries for these places, and describes them as "small bohemian-esque towns... which has a bit of a European feel to it – with its chic, niche cafés and exceptional desserts".
I wondered if concierge staff ever feels annoyed by incessant questions from travellers. Sumiyoshi takes it as an optimistic sign for the travel industry. "We love it when we receive these kinds of requests because we take it as an indication of traveller's increased interest in what's authentically Japanese." On the trend ahead for the Tokyo travel industry, visitors are now familiar with the cliché destinations. Instead, "they are preferring more immersive experiences versus merely observing".
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