By: Lina Broydo on: January 09, 2015 on KCTATH a Russian American News and Views Publication
Excitement, fascination, and infatuation were my constant companions on my recent first-time visit to Tokyo and Hong Kong. The partnership duet of the legendary Peninsula Hotels in both cities, as well as All Nipon Airlines resuming their Dreamliner direct service between San Jose International Airport and Tokyo’s Narita International Airport with a convenient connection to Hong Kong, was the perfect opportunity for me to explore the two most vibrant cities of the Pacific Rim.
As an avid opera lover, I compare my phenomenal trip to Tokyo and Hong Kong to a magical night at the famed La Scala Opera Theater in Milano, Italy, featuring an overture, four acts, and the grand finale, where Tokyo and Hong Kong are its colorful performing stages. It all culminated with an unforgettably glorious experience with the spectacular Peninsula Hotels and the All Nipon Airline’s Boeing Dreamliner as its star soloists.
Just like a beautiful opera starts with a melodic overture, my smoothly gliding flight on the 787 Dreamliner, a high-tech whiz of a plane with its Rolls-Royce engine, started with service with a smile and an elegant gourmet dining experience – including a few desserts created exclusively for ANA passengers by the famous French pastry chef Pierre Herme, known as The Picasso of Pastries. With its lullaby dreamy comfort, I was spoiled, rested, and refreshed as I reached my imaginary acts of the opera – the amazing Hong Kong, the magnificent Tokyo, and the world renowned Peninsula Hotels.
Act 1: Tokyo
Anticipating a huge, crowded, and bustling business city where all women and men are dressed in dark signature-look suits a la Wall Street, rushing in their pursuit of yen for the yen, a lovely surprise awaited me as I explored Tokyo. Finding small and charming neighborhoods, intimate cafes and hidden alleys with tiny restaurants, bars, galleries, boutiques, as well as magnificent gardens and lovely parks, created for me a collage of wonderful pleasures and treasures with the touch of romantic ambiance in this huge metropolis of the world I never knew.
And yes, the attire of the business people has changed as well – as the young brilliant minds all decked out in black T-shirts and dark gray or dark blue jeans, ironed, mind you, with their iPhones in their pockets or their hands, have now become the high-tech couture, definitely influenced by their idol, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
On my daily outings, guided and orchestrated to perfection by The Peninsula Tokyo hotel’s energetic PR team of Mark Kobayashi and Masaki Hane, I was never lost in translation. Made possible by the best, most punctual and the cleanest public transportation of the underground metro (and please save your train ticket to the journey’s final destination to avoid an additional expense), I was among the constant flow of visitors to the temples and the shrines, as well as to the alluring Ginza Mitsukoshi, the ritzy shopping capital of Japan, its most fashionable destination.
Savoring the whirlpool of activities under the neon lights of the Rainbow Bridge to the sounds of whooshing bullet trains, my dining experience of the magically theatrical, colorful, traditionally authentic cuisine at the renowned Robataya restaurant located in Roppongi (a favorite of movie stars from around the globe with a few dozens photos to prove it), reflects the high quality and vibrancy of life in Tokyo, which makes it one of the most exciting cities in the world.
To add to the well-established and popular sites, there is now a new kid on the block: Tokyo Sky Tree Tower, 2,080 feet tall with numerous observation decks, it is Japan’s highest tower and its newest hot attraction. With its 360 degrees of magnificent panoramic views, on a clear day, as when I visited it, you can see Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san, as it is known to the Japanese. The nations most recognizable natural landmark, it has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list as a cultural asset for inspiring artists, poets and religious pilgrims.
And if you love sushi like I love sushi, a visit to Tsukiji Market, the world’s biggest wholesale fish and seafood market, was one of the highlights of my introduction to Tokyo. The uniquely impressive and loud live auction, sometimes reaching $1,000 per tuna, is mesmerizing to observe and worth the 2AM wake-up call. Enjoying the 6AM tasting at Sushi Dai located right there at the fish market area, was the freshest sushi I have ever consumed. It is definitely worth a plane ride from San Jose.
With my visit to Tokyo, I discovered a new flavor of the city with its very charismatic people, who are incredibly polite, helpful, and smiling. Connecting with them without speaking Japanese, except for Ohayou Gozaimasu (good morning) and Domo Arigato (thanks you very much), which was always rewarded by a wide smile and appreciating nod from all, was one of the most memorable and priceless souvenirs I would bring home, in addition to bowing a lot and a box of some delectable macaroons, a gift of The Peninsula Tokyo’s Pastry Chef.
Act 2: The Peninsula Tokyo
Art/Design: The Peninsula Tokyo is the only hotel in the city designed entirely by Japanese designers and architects. With its collection of more than 1,000 art pieces by nearly 85 artists, I was drawn to the wire sculptures showcased in the hotel’s enclosed atrium suspended from the 8th floor to the 23rd floors. These specially-commissioned sculptures by international artists Ben Jakober and Yannick Vu offer a glimpse of modern art. Three windows on each floor show 24 stainless steel cones, each weighing 176 pounds suspended by high tensile cables. Each cone is wrapped with special Schott side-glow glass fibers, crisscrossing diagonally and emitting diffused light all along the length of the elevator windows illuminated by colorful LEED lights which are lit up in pink each October for Cancer Awareness Month.
Culinary Art: My gourmet odyssey of The Peninsula Tokyo provided a number of dining options of four exceptional restaurants and a café: The Lobby, with its accommodating versatility of serving all-day dining, including the celebrated afternoon tea, where Chef de Cuisine Jun Ishiti presides, has won its interior designer Yukio Hashimoto and famed architect Kazukiyo Sato numerous awards. Balancing the Japanese culinary art form with its taste, texture, appearance and colors were the outstanding gastronomic highlights of our dining at the hotel’s Kyoto Tsuruya restaurant.
Peter the Great: Located on the 24th floor, Peter Grill Restaurant, known as dining heaven with a view, offers seafood and salads as well as its signature prime cut meats such as the enormous tomahawk steak. The restaurant is surrounded by a modern and sensual interior with breathtaking 180-degree views of Tokyo and its famed Imperial Palace, Hibiya Park, and Tokyo’s Sky Tower. From Peter’s award winning restaurant, where we were treated to a memorable culinary journey to the upbeat sounds in the adjacent and extremely popular Bar, where the famed ‘‘Tokyo Joe’’ signature cocktail rules from the times they filmed the Humphrey Bogart movie, Tokyo Joe there in 1949. Served in a specially commissioned designer glass and created by Ms. Mari Kamata, The Peninsula’s senior bartender, the smooth blend of Bombay Sapphire Gin, Umeshu, Drambuie (a favorite of Bogie) and Cranberry Juice takes its name from the 1949 movie starring the actor. Tokyo Joe was the first Hollywood production filmed in postwar Japan.
The theatrical decorum of Peter showcases the striking moving wall art featuring a galloping young deer. With its surprising illusionary scenery and interactive creativity Peter encompasses a marvelous combination of food by maestro Japanese Chef de Cuisine Masayuki Haeiwa, cocktails, an inviting and romantic ambience, priceless views and art which makes it the most desirable restaurant in the city. In addition to serving lunch and dinner daily, it also serves a lavish Sunday brunch. Casual and fun, Peter is a welcoming place for all ages, including babies and children.
Join me in our next issue of Writer’s Bloc for Part II of my Six Perfect Days in Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Lina Broydo immigrated from Russia, then the Soviet Union, to Israel where she was educated and got married. After working at the University in Birmingham, England she and her husband immigrated to the United States. She lives in Los Altos Hills, CA and writes about travel, art, style, entertainment, and sports. She hardly cooks or bakes, not the best of ‘‘balabostas’’ her beloved beautiful Mom, Dina, was hoping for. Therefore, she makes reservations and enjoys dining out.