A concierge’s guide to Tokyo

Insights from an expert, from toy shopping tips to cherry blossom season


BY MASUMI TAJIMA
Masumi Tajima is the Director of Concierge Services at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo.

 

Cherry on top

One of the questions I’m asked most often is when is the best time for seeing cherry blossom season at its peak. In fact, that information changes a little every year, as it’s something that is affected by the weather. As a general rule, any time from after 20 March, to the first week of April, is usually peak time for seeing the blossoms.

The Japanese way is to make a packed lunch in a bento box for family and friends to share in the park under the Sakura trees. The beautiful park of Shinrin Kōen Park, about 45 minutes from Tokyo, is among the best places to see the blossoms, but there are plenty of other options. In Japanese offices, sometimes a junior colleague will be asked to go early to put a blanket down and keep the viewing space. The earlier in the day you can secure your spot, the better.

Personalised shopping

I recommend that our hotel guests begin their shopping close to Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. Nihonbashi, the district we’re in, is a financial one, but it also has many shops with hundreds of years-long histories, that sell unique items. What’s special about this area is that you can not only shop for products, but see, and even try for yourself, the techniques that are employed to create them. Japanese paper, knives, and beautiful Edo Kiriko cut-glass cups are among the items you can buy in Nihonbashi. For the best souvenir of your trip, I recommend making something yourself, such as writing your name in calligraphy on Japanese paper that you have made yourself. Try your hand at Ozu Washi, a specialist Japanese paper shop and museum.

Galleries large and small

Tokyo has many museums and galleries I can heartily recommend, the biggest of which is the famed Tokyo National Museum, ten minutes from the hotel by subway or taxi. But you’ll also find new, smaller galleries within older buildings, such as the gallery complex in the Ocuna building in the district of Ginza. There’s no one museum quarter or neighbourhood as such in Tokyo; rather you’ll find there are many small museums and galleries throughout the city.

Child’s play

The usual name for a toy shop in Tokyo is a ‘toy park’, and these typically take the form of absolutely huge, dedicated shops which are the stuff of most little children’s dreams. Among the most notable is a multi-storey shop called Hakuhinkan Toy Park, in the shopping district of Ginza. You also might also want to consider a family outing to see the cute young panda who was born at Ueno Zoo in 2017. She’s called Xiang Xiang, and couldn't be viewed by the public for the first few weeks as she needed to be kept in a private space with her mother.

Eating out – and in

As a concierge, making restaurant recommendations is a key part of my role. But guests also often approach me for help with making a reservation at places they’ve seen in books such as the Michelin Guide. That can mean simply staying in and dining at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo: our own in-house restaurants include three that have been awarded a Michelin star. We’re the only hotel in Japan for whom that’s the case.

Meanwhile, the huge food court of exquisite produce at Mitsukoshi, the department store next door to Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo is also worth visiting simply to marvel at it. Depending on the weather, it’s the perfect place to pick up a beautiful pre-prepared lunch that you can take to the park.

Don't skip the subway

Tokyo’s subways are remarkably safe and extremely clean, with fast trains that run from 5am until after midnight – and are always on time. In terms of local etiquette, talking very loudly or taking a phone call on the train would be something to avoid. You often see ordinary people who have fallen asleep on the Tokyo trains, as they are such safe, quiet spaces. It’s worth noting that most taxi drivers cannot speak English however, so hailing a taxi in the street is often not as easy for international travellers here as simply taking the subway.

Immerse yourself in Tokyo

High above the city, Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo is a five-star luxury hotel with views to take your breath away. Exuding crisp, contemporary style, we pride ourselves on our excellent technology, renowned spa, innovative restaurants and impeccable service.