The Hedonist: Tokyo
What to see and where to be seen
Saturday 07 May 2011
It would easily win an award for the world's speediest hotel check-in. Before my white-gloved taxi driver even hands me my change, a smiling face appears at the door: "Ms Demetriou? Welcome!"
My bag is whipped out and a tag team of sharply-suited members of staff sweeps me through the glass doors, along corridors and up ear-popping lifts. It feels like only seconds later that I am standing, blinking in the afternoon sunshine, in my 46th-floor bedroom.
It's an appropriately fast-paced start to a hedonistic weekend based in Tokyo's Park Hyatt (00 81 3 5322 1234; tokyo.park.hyatt.com) better known as the hotel from Lost In Translation.
Tokyo is perhaps the ultimate city for hedonists: there are gleaming skyscrapers, sunset cocktails, shining fashion flagships, Michelin-starred restaurants and a nightlife that goes intoxicatingly well with jetlag. But there is little doubt that the 11 March earthquake, tsunami and the resulting problems at the Fukushima nuclear site, have caused confusion as to whether Japan is an appropriate destination to visit, particularly for a traveller seeking a dose of pleasure.
However, behind the blare of newspaper headlines, it's very much life as normal in Tokyo. There may be a little less neon and a new found awareness of the need for energy saving, but radiation levels in the capital are safe and the Foreign Office has lifted all travel restrictions for the Japanese capital.
Even the prime minister has urged the nation to end its period of "self-restraint" and to start looking forward – and spend money again. So with this in mind, it is without guilt that I find myself arriving to explore the hedonistic underbelly of a city that has long topped the global pleasure polls.
First, it's time to venture to the Aoyama district for some retail therapy. Shopping is taken seriously in Tokyo, as befits its status as a temple to consumerism. Along Omotesando boulevard the buildings compete for attention with window displays. The wide street is lined with fashion flagships, from Toyo Ito's tree-motif which wraps around the Tod's boutique (00 81 3 6419 2055; tods.com) to Tadao Ando's shopping mall Omotesando Hills (00 81 3 3497-0310; omotesandohills.com).
Next stop is a cup of ginger milk tea in the achingly stylish Dragonfly Café (00 81 3 5412 7527; zuccone.com), a modern space of concrete and glass, followed by a riffle through art tomes at the on-site Cow Books store ( cowbooks.jp).
A short walk away, the world switches from cool minimalism to gaudy colour. I'm on Takeshita Dori street, focus for Tokyo's teen tribes complete with bright stores and some of the best people-watching in the city.
One strawberries-and-cream pancake later, I'm jumping in a taxi back to the hotel, as it's time for the highlight of any Tokyo day: sunset cocktails. There are few better ways to start a night out than by sitting at the window of the New York Bar in the Park Hyatt, watching the city lights illuminate the sky.
I sip a dangerously delicious pink sake-based concoction called the LIT (that's short for Lost In Translation), then it's on to the adjacent New York Grill restaurant for a four-course extravaganza, the highlight being the "Kamifurano" beef sirloin from Hokkaido.
A brisk post-dinner stroll through Shinjuku district takes me to a late-night haunt at the opposite end of the entertainment spectrum: Golden Gai. Consisting of rows of ramshackle and teeny old post-war bars, a visit to Golden Gai always leads to a night of unexpected encounters.
Squeezed into the first-floor space of a tiny bar, I sip oolong tea cocktails while chatting (in no particular order) to a local photographer, a dancer and a retired salaryman. Then, a surreal few hours later, I discover that a sufficient quantity of alcohol has been consumed to embarrass myself at that favourite Japanese pastime: karaoke.
My phone rings and I hazily remember that I should be somewhere else, namely meeting friends at a party at the club Le Baron de Paris (00 81 3 3408 3665; lebaron.jp), saving me from what would have been a particularly painful rendition of Dolly Parton's "Jolene". A short taxi drive deposits me at Le Baron, down a narrow alley in Aoyama. The club is a fashion-crowd favourite and a haven of red velvet, black walls and mirrors (courtesy of Marc Newson). Here I join an unwaveringly nocturnal crowd dancing to French electronica.
As the sun starts creeping up, I clamber exhausted into a luxurious king-sized bed and reflect that despite the traumas of Japan's recent past, a night in Tokyo is a night like no other.
* The writer stayed at the Tokyo Park Hyatt (00 81 3 5322 1234; tokyo.park.hyatt.com) at 3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku. Doubles from 69,300 yen (£520), room only.
A 'Hedonist's Guide to...' (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.com
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