BY: LIM YANN LING
AS THE Japanese saying goes, go ni itte wa, go ni shitagae - when in a village, do as the villagers do.
For the hardworking men and women in Tokyo, taking time off for a vacation often means checking into a luxury hotel to be pampered, without leaving the capital.
"I've been in the hotel line for many years and I must say this is a phenomenon particular to this city," says Mr Daniel Lopez, assistant front desk manager at Conrad Tokyo.
"Up to 80 per cent of our clients are Japanese. Some of them can even see their homes from the hotel... Maybe because of language barrier, they prefer a straightforward spa, fine-dining and shopping right at home."
With 24 hours to spare, I decided to trace the newest hotels inTokyo and take time off, as the locals would. The Ritz-Carlton in Midtown occupies the 45th up to the 53rd floors in the city's tallest skyscraper, Conrad Tokyo and Mandarin Oriental are at the peak and they offer rooms and restaurants with dramatic views. The view to the West, in particular, is coveted with snow-capped Mt Fuji in the distance.
The three hotels have become the places to soak in Tokyo's life: Conrad at Shiodome has the daytime synergy of young people; Ritz-Carlton Midtown is a stage for business and art dealings while Mandarin Oriental at Nihombashii decants the financial centre's cigarettes, colognes and spirits, as reservations for its Tapas Molecular Bar pour in each night.
Conrad Tokyo in the tourist, business and leisure district of Shiodome was my first stop. The gateway to Odaiba, Shiodome is close to Ginza and the famous Tsujiki Fish Market.
A ride on the Odaiba-bound com-puterised, unmanned Yurikamome train was a sightseeing experience in itself. I flowed with the magnetism of a wholly Japanese crowd, feeling like a flaneur, or aimless idler, in a futurist's dream.
Until a few years ago, Odaiba was a vacant stretch of reclaimed land. Now, it boasts a startling variety of entertainment and futuristic architecture.
The Rainbow Bridge, a colourful spectacle at night, offers superb vistas of Tokyo Bay. At the end sits a sea fronting garden complete with a manmade beach for a quick respite.
From Odaiba, I ventured to Ritz Carlton in Midtown. Used as a military post since the Meiji era, the promenade from Midtown to Yoyogi Park today covers a full spectrum of what it means to be fashionable: Ometesando
Hills does it in classy, treelined Ginza-style, while buskers in Yoyogi Park love the hippie- friendly Roppongi Hills.
Galleria Midtown itself overflows with art and design boutiques. Its al fresco and indoor restaurants include
a posh dog's deli. Fronting its third-floor atrium is the Suntory Museum of Art, and in the backyard sits the open-air 21_21 Design Sight, conceptualised by architect Tadao Ando and fashion designer Issey Miyake.
Nearby, the Mori Art Museum Mongul exhibits world-class contemporary art on the highest observation deck in Japan.
The Roppongi promenade ends at the Meiji-jingu Shrine, dedicated to the sacred souls of the Emperor Meiji and the Empress, where first-time visitors can pay their respects. The Shoken wooden torii (sacred arch) is the highest of
its type in Japan.
From the window seats at the Mandarin Oriental Lounge, the city dimly glows in towers of fluorescent lights and red blinking signals. In the streets below, men and women pound the pavements of Nihombashii on their way home. Occasionally, they will slip into a Takashimaya or Mitsui departmental store before re-emerging on the journey to Tokyo Station, where the whole city reunites.
I joined the stream of pedestrians and headed towards my final stop: the boutique-style Four Seasons at Marunouchi, where I was told the true insights into Tokyo can be found. The passage to the hotel lobby opened up before me to reveal the polite bows of smiling Japanese concierge staff.
As I drew closer to the windows, the Shinkansen bullet train and the JR lines flashed past, each going its own way on the railway tracks. For a moment, I saw the beating heart of the city.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on July 31, 2008.