The XXXII Summer Olympics kicks off in Tokyo on July 24. This will be Tokyo’s second Olympics since its 1964 games, and suffice it to say, much has changed about the city in the last 56 years. The vibrant metropolis of Tokyo now hosts a revolving door of activations, openings, and noteworthy events at any time of day or night. Their culinary scene has all but exploded. There is a shopping district for every fashion palette, whether you’re looking for secondhand finds or bespoke luxury pieces you can’t buy outside of Japan. And of course, the tourism scene around Tokyo has expanded significantly, such that each prefecture offers luxury retreats from the city. To keep the Olympic happenings straight—what’s opening ahead of the games, what events to attend, what hotels are still taking reservations, the hot restaurants to reserve—here is Departures’ luxury guide to Tokyo 2020.
New and Noteworthy Openings Ahead of the Olympics
Fraser Suites Akasaka is opening in 2020 with its reservation calendar starting in early February. In close proximity to Akasaka station, the hotel puts you a 20-minute walk from Roppongi (where Team USA will set up their Olympic house), and a short metro ride to Shibuya and Ginza, both high-end neighborhoods with great shopping. It should be noted that many favorite Tokyo luxury hotels like Park Hyatt Tokyo, HOSHINOYA Tokyo, The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, and even the new The Okura Tokyo are, as of now, already booked-out during the Olympics. However, some of the new properties, like Fraser Suites, still have rooms available.
Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi currently plans to open “mid-2020,” with guest rooms occupying floors 34 to 39 of their new tower and no fewer than four on-site dining options. Otemachi is right below Ginza and proximate to both Olympic zones—the more central Heritage Zone and the Tokyo Bay Zone, which is on the water and extends to the surrounding islands. The hotel is adjacent to the Imperial Palace for optimal sight-seeing. As of now, there isn’t an online portal to use for Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi Olympics reservations.
AMBUSH, a Tokyo-based luxury apparel and jewelry label by Yoon and Verbal Ahn, opened a brand-new Shibuya store this fall. Yoon Ahn has made the jump from “up-and-coming” to “big name” in record time. Among other projects, she’s currently spearheading Dior Homme’s jewelry design. In terms of new and noteworthy shopping, AMBUSH’s Shibuya retail space has some edge and the brand’s accessories are routinely spotted on pop icons like Rihanna and Lady Gaga.
The Meiji Jingu Museum opened in October 2019 in celebration of the Meiji Shrine’s 100th birthday. The museum is exhibiting artifacts from Emperor Meiji’s reign and pieces from the shrine previously stored in Treasure Hall. The new museum is designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Tsuji.
The Japan Olympic Museum opened in September 2019 and is positioned directly across from the New National Stadium, which will host the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. The museum is an Olympic timeline come to life, with Olympic torches, logos, and other original artwork from games past. There’s also an entire VR-related exhibit wherein museum visitors can try their virtual hand at synchronized swimming, basketball, archery, gymnastics, and several of the other 33 Olympic sports.
The Best Restaurants to Book During the Olympics
The Tokyo culinary scene is exciting and ever-changing, but the sheer magnitude and quality can make it overwhelming. Being a foodie in Tokyo is akin to being a kid in the proverbial candy shop—where do you even begin? Our solution is always to do as the locals do. Where do they go to celebrate a promotion at work or on a second date when they’re trying to impress? To make some sense not only of the Tokyo restaurant scene, but the best places to go in proximity to Olympic events and Olympic-adjacent neighborhoods, we consulted Tyler Palma, Tokyo Branch Manager at InsideJapan Tours who’s been scoping out Tokyo dining for the better part of the last decade. These are Palma’s must-try restaurant picks, broken down by neighborhood.
Insider pick: Shinjuku Seryna
Palma’s take: “Seryna specializes in Kobe beef, of which the genuine stuff can be surprisingly hard to find even in Japan. Especially good is the shabu shabu, which you cook yourself by dipping thin slices of meat in hot broth. Flavors are enhanced by specially blended sauces: sesame for the beef and ponzu (soy and lime) for the vegetables.”
Insider pick: Kappou Ukai
Palma’s take: “Kappou style dining is less formal than the more well-known kaiseki but equally exquisite. The cuisine is seasonal Japanese using high-quality ingredients. Wonderful food, great ambiance.”
Insider pick: Ginza Kyubei
Palma’s take: “It’s one of the most well-known sushi restaurants in Tokyo, and because of its size, one of the few where you don’t need to be booking a year in advance. The main branch is tucked in a backstreet in Ginza. We suggest ordering the omakase (chef’s special) set menu which includes around 15 different kinds of sushi served piece by piece the moment it’s ready.”
For American travelers, most of the staff speaks English—which isn’t always a guarantee in Tokyo—and they have vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
Insider pick: Inua
Palma’s take: “After spending years at Noma, Thomas Frebel created his own restaurant in Tokyo. A foodie’s paradise, the flavors and creations here are truly unique.”
Insider pick: Den
Palma’s take: “Den is regularly regarded by San Pellegrino as one of the world’s best restaurants. The joy of eating here is the combination of spectacular food with a relaxed and inviting atmosphere.”
Insider pick: Nihonryori Ryugin
Palma’s take: “If you want to have Japanese food at it’s very best, you would struggle to find somewhere as good as this three-star Michelin restaurant. Every dish is perfection in both flavor and exquisite presentation.”
Olympic Activations in Tokyo
Palma said that, as of now, plenty of pop-up events are in the works but as yet pending. However, officially on the books are the Olympic Torch relay and the Tokyo Skytree lighting.
The Olympic Torch reinvents itself with each games, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic torches each form the shape of a cherry blossom at the top. The Olympic Torch Relay starts on March 26, 2020 at the J-Village National Training Centre in Fukushima Prefecture.
The Olympic Torch moves across each one of Japan’s 47 prefectures for 121 days. Not only is the idea to build excitement within the host country, it’s “aimed at showcasing solidarity with the regions still recovering from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami under its slogan ‘Hope Lights Our Way,’” said Palma.
The Tokyo Skytree will also be illuminated in honor of the Olympics, starting on July 13. It will host the Olympic colors until the day of the closing ceremonies, August 9, and then will reignite with the Paralympic colors on August 12.
Ticket Packages and VIP Itineraries
If you’ve started researching Olympic packages and hotels in Japan and are surprised that you’re not having much luck, there’s a reason for the snag. Hotels, tour operators, and other tourism organizations aren’t allowed to release Olympic programming unless they are an official sponsor of the games. You also cannot buy ticket packages through these tourism entities. Olympic ticketing is very above board, so event tickets can only be purchased through Authorized Ticket Resellers.
For those based in the U.S., the Authorized Ticket Reseller is CoSport/Jet Set Sports.
In terms of VIP experiences and curated itineraries, InsideJapan Tours can put together an entire trip plan for you once your tickets are purchased. Their programming can include tours of historic areas, arranging transportation logistics, or providing access to under-the-radar experiences. “We’ll help luxury travelers navigate the crowds and gain access to what is normally difficult for outsiders to penetrate,” said Palma.
Exploring Tokyo’s Surrounding Towns
Pickings for hotel rooms in Tokyo are rapidly getting slimmer. Palma made the point that “a lot of visitors forget about Japan’s incredible rail network and so limit their searches to central Tokyo.”
He recommends that guests entertain the idea of staying outside the city, stressing that, “with the bullet train, you can be relatively far from Tokyo but comfortably glide into the center of the city each morning. It’s a great way to experience different parts of Japan and get away from the crowds.”
And of course, you can opt to stay within the city limits on days you have event tickets, and then travel to the other prefectures of Kanto for the remainder of your stay. That said, these are the areas outside Tokyo perfect for an outside-the-city home base or a retreat after the Olympic hubbub.
A 25-minute train ride from Tokyo, Yokohama is an ideal place to set up residence during the Olympics. Fusing Japanese and foreign culture—between their Chinatown and the old-fashioned, Western-style homes—Yokohama is set on Sagami Bay. Yokohama Chinatown is home to more than 300 restaurants, and the waterfront-adjacent Sakuragicho neighborhood is a good go-to shopping area. Most importantly, explore the food and drink scene in Motomachi, with extra attention given to the breweries—Palma identified Yokohama as “the cosmopolitan but relaxed seaside alternative to Tokyo with great craft beer and plenty of live music.” The town will welcome a new luxury hotel in June 2020; The Kahala Hotel & Resort, a luxe Oahu spot, expands to the Yokohama waterfront right in time for the Olympics.
Set on Lake Ashi, Hakone is a Kanagawa Prefecture relaxation hotspot. About an hour outside Tokyo, city dwellers often flock to Hakone after a long week to revel in their naturally sourced onsen (hot spring) baths. Stay at Ashinoko Hanaori, where everything is taken care of for guests—from meals to outfits. (That’s right, your day-to-day wear and kimono is provided at the hotel.) Not only does Ashinoko Hanaori offer indoor and open-air, wilderness-surrounded onsens, they also have an expansive outdoor foot bath overlooking Lake Ashi.
Mount Fuji, Yamanashi
Mount Fuji—and the five lakes surrounding the mountain—isn’t just a huge tourist draw for foreigners, it’s a natural wonder the Japanese get equally (if not more) excited about. There’s something refreshing about seeing locals find such joy in their country’s greatest attractions. For those living in Tokyo, Mount Fuji is just barely visible from the city on the clearest day. So to see the mountain up close, surrounded by a cloudless blue sky, is a treat. The Olympic cycling race will circumvent Lake Yamanaka, the largest of the five lakes. But luxury travelers would do well to seek out the beautiful hotels on Lake Kawaguchi. Many Lake Kawaguchi-facing hotels, like HOSHINOYA Fuji, offer surreal views of the mountain right from your hotel room.
Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka
Shizuoka Prefecture has Olympic name recognition because it’s home to Fuji Speedway, which will serve as the finish line venue for Olympic cycling. The Izu Peninsula is known for its coastline, beaches, and hot spring sources—the Japanese water-based trifecta. Shuzenji is a hot spring resort town on the peninsula, home to Asaba, a serene Relais & Châteaux escape. While in Shizuoka, you’ll also want to visit the Jogasaki Coast on the Izu Peninsula, a scenic suspension bridge lining the coast.