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Lucire: Volante
japan


Lucire 2011
The Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo A modern look in a neighbourhood of contrasts.

Tokyo rising

continued




Above Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Tokyo from the Shangri-La. Below A store selling cat toys, and the sunglasses at Zoff.

 

Shopping: excitement at your feet
Even in tough times, Japanese love their labels, and at all price points. Though you may have branches of Chanel, Dior, Prada, Zara, Banana Republic and Armani in your town, chances are you will encounter serious fashion eye-candy in the Ginza and Shibuya neighbourhood outposts made only for the Asian market (and, often, sniff, for petite frames). However, you will also probably luck in upon accessories (such as gorgeous hair clips and barrettes, stand-out scarves and whimsical socks) that will give even your most conservative nine-to-five outfit a colourful jolt of wasabi. Though the three Lumine malls surrounding Shinjuku station (especially Lumine Est) are loaded with lacy, girly and ruffle-y concoctions by local designers, they are balanced with a wonderful assortment of one-size-fits-all delights. Lumine Est also has a pocket-sized branch of the well publicized Three Coins (¥315=US$4) stores, bursting with all kinds of quirky-cute home accessories and closet organizers they never knew they needed.

Though Tokyo lives up to its reputation as one of the most expensive shopping city on Earth, the Three Coins and ¥100 stores and popular chains like Muji and Uniqlo reflect that there are bargains. However, what about something reasonably priced that is also high-quality and highly practical. Look no further than the Harajuku branch of Japanese eyewear chain Zoff which does for prescription eyewear what Swatch did for Swiss watches back in the 1980s. While the colours and designs of the frames are on-trend and eye-popping to be sure, the frame quality is excellent and the rapidity and courtesy of service has to be experienced to be believed. If you have your prescription available, you can have a brand new, high-fashion pair of glasses with your prescription and custom fit to your face in less than an hour and for under US$100. If not, just add another 20 minutes, and you are on your way to a proper eyewear wardrobe. The Harajuku staff is earnest and adorable.

A few extra notes on destination shopping neighbourhoods. Harajuku–Shibuya, which Gwen Stefani helped put on the pop culture map, seems to be shifting toward a vibe that is very upscale NYC–Soho with its mix of stores and fashionable, professional haunts. If you want to catch a glimpse of the youthquake she channels in her videos and LAMB clothing line, you may be more likely to find it on the streets of Shinjuku. Ginza may still live up to its reputation as a centre of designer nirvana, the ultra-fashionable Marunouchi neighbourhood picks up in world-class fashion, culture (including the delightful Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum) and dining where Ginza literally leaves off. It is here you will find a small but lovely location of FrancFranc, which specializes in up-to-the-minute and reasonably priced home décor.

 



Above The Presidential suite at the Shangri-La, and a still sumptuous Shangri-La suite.

 

The Shangri-La Hotel: rising to the top
Even with all that has happened, Tokyo has much to be proud of as a gateway to Asia, with the beauty, hospitality and technical flair identified with Japan fully intact. Though it has a roster of extraordinary luxury hotels in keeping with their time-honoured hospitality traditions, the Shangri-La Tokyo (and the sister property of the Shangri-La Bangkok, which we also love) literally stands above the crowd. Perched on top of the Marunouchi Trust Tower Main, the property has you at konnichiwa with its panoramic vistas of Tokyo’s key landmarks (Imperial Gardens to the east and Tokyo Bay to the west), a painstakingly curated display of 2,000 pieces of original artwork and 50 distinct hand-made Czech Lasvit chandeliers.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Shangri-La is adjacent to Tokyo Station and Marunouchi. The hotel’s Horizon Club, serving the executive floors, is a perfect microcosm of Tokyo’s next great neighbourhood with its minimal-but-lavish décor, exquisitely prepared food and drink offerings, business concierge and flawless service. Its Lobby Lounge and world-class restaurants, Piacere and Nadaman, have such a commanding presence and emphasis on service and presentation that a substantial part of their clientèle is a home-town crowd.

According to General Manager Wolfgang Krüger, the perfect way to make guests feel at home is to equip every room, from its beyond-standard and deluxe guest suites to the internationally acclaimed Presidential and Shangri-La Suites designed by interior design Wunderkind André Fu, with so many extras all one needs to pack are a few changes of clothes. Besides l’Occitane toiletries (the luxury hotel amenities of choice these days), the bathrooms stock an impressive selection of grooming essentials and the largest rain showerheads in Japan.

In addition to complimentary wifi, the desk area has virtually enough supplies, chargers and gadgets to enable the guest to recreate his or her home office if needed. Better still, the room safes are designed to charge laptops and other devices when you’re not taking care of business. Forgot to pack your pyjamas or sneakers? No worries! Every room supplies guests with pyjamas while the health club adjacent to the luxuriantly pan-Asian Chi Spa, will loan you the gear needed to burn off your decadent Italian feast at Piacere from the night before.

Though many hotels and businesses in Tokyo have pitched in to support ongoing relief efforts in the north, what makes the Shangri-La’s Wish for Japan programme different and most inspirational is that it was borne out of a genuine sense of shared community responsibility rather than corporate responsibility.

‘We [at the executive level] helped out by organizing some of the volunteer clean-up efforts, set up the website, and put our “wish bands” out for sale to finance our monthly trips to the north, but we want to make it clear this was started at the initiative of the employees who wanted to make a difference,’ said Krüger, who at interview time was preparing to make his sixth trek up to the affected area near Sendai.

‘While there is plenty of money from our charity outreach efforts available to us, what is key is keeping track of how the money is spent,’ he continues. ‘It’s not just enough to send money. You also need to find ways to get volunteers up there to help, as well as purchase and transport food and supplies. We want to keep track to ensure every penny benefits somebody directly. What’s great about the way this programme is being handled is that we can see quantifiable results of the volunteer efforts, from clearing the rubble, to feeding the locals to helping many of those individuals get back on their feet.’

While there are plans to keep the Wish for Japan programme running at least until the first anniversary of the quake and tsunami, Krüger points out that building his Tokyo staff has been one of the most inspirational aspects of reinventing the hotel as a top-tier luxury property. He extends the sentiment to express his belief his executive team, Chi Spa practitioners, concierge pros and the rest of the staff, likewise, have a unique ability to transform a Tokyo stay from a luxury destination to something greater than the sum of its sights, sounds, food and business doings.

‘While Japan is not always the easiest place for a foreigner [to adjust to], I found myself inspired by their pride, work ethic, warmth and positive attitude they show in the various tasks they perform for their job,’ the German-born 20-year hotel industry veteran affirms. ‘This is my second longest posting at a property after Hong Kong, and I will take away the positive values they instilled in me, and I believe our guests will, too.’

Tokyo remains a feast for the senses, and the hearty but refined locals would not have it any other way. •

 

Below Chi, the spa, at the Shangri-La; chef Oliver Weber and his staff; bell staff at the Shangri-La Hotel in Tokyo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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