Hidden Tokyo

Metropolis Tokyo has long been a hit with business events, but work is in motion to turn planners’ attention to rural gems in the greater area.

Tokyo is well-known as a multi-faceted metropolis, complete with old and new aspects, from its centuries-old Imperial Palace, Buddhist temples and tea gardens to futuristic skyscrapers, cutting-edge technology and modern food scene.

Now, business event stakeholders in the city are encouraging groups to see another side of the destination – rural Tokyo. And, with rising interest among events planners for incentives and excursions in less congested places that allow easier social distancing, work is accelerating to whet appetite as international travel resumes.

Hachijojima, Tokyo

Efforts to promote rural Tokyo for business events is led by Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Tamashima, focusing on the mountainous and heavily forested Tama area in the west and the subtropical island chain (shima) that stretches 270km south. A new website under the Tamashima brand lists recommendations and model courses for day trips and overnight or 3D2N stays, each designed to help visitors enjoy the best of the two areas.

Despite being far from central Tokyo, the islands are well connected by high-speed jet boat and airplanes. Travellers can even depart central Tokyo on an overnight ferry to arrive in the morning.

Each island has unique characteristics that could appeal to excursions and incentive programmes. Oshima is a geopark with unique volcanic scenery; Nijima is a renowned surf spot; Shikinejima is filled with coastal inlets, coves and hot springs; and Hachijojima is popular for aquatic sports including scuba diving.

With the Tama area located about a 90-minute drive from central Tokyo, Hironobu Fujimura, director of the business events team at Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau (TCVB), said it has become “a real hot spot.”

“The Tama area allows visitors to see another face of Tokyo. Located in the foothills of the Okutama Mountains south-west of Tokyo is an oasis blessed with an abundance of nature and filled with fascinating cultural spots.”

Fujimura and his team at TCVB provide tours of Tama including Mount Takao, which was designated a three-star mountain by Michelin Green Guide Japan. The mountain has chair lifts and cable cars, allowing participants to prioritise hiking or viewing the scenery, and is recommended as a teambuilding activity.

Options for incentives include soba making, where participants learn about buckwheat before making and eating their own handmade noodles, and sake brewery tours. At the Ishikawa Brewery, guests can pair sake and locally-brewed beer with dishes at Japanese or Western restaurants. The facility can also host private parties for up to 100 people.

In 2021, Tama became more viable for conferences and exhibitions, too, with the opening of Green Springs in Tachikawa. The innovative, well-being-focused site includes the largest multipurpose hall in Tama, featuring indoor and outdoor stages with combined seating capacity for 2,500 pax. The adjacent Sorano Hotel has 81 guestrooms, each offering park views, as well as various dining options, an infinity pool and a spa. There are also extensive F&B offerings, shops and a 10,000m2 park at Green Springs.

Such new spaces boost the existing event facilities in the area. Nearby Hachioji has 18 convention facilities, 50 banquet halls and 1,768 guestrooms within walking distance of a train station.

However, industry experts admit that central Tokyo may still remain a bigger draw for business events, particularly those that are large or whose participants are new to Japan. In recognition of this, Tokyo Metropolitan Government offers a one-day tour of Tama as part of in-kind support for a large-scale conference held in Tokyo. But Tamashima could see growth in the coming years among repeat visitors or those seeking a quieter stay.

James Kent, general manager of The J Team DMC, said the ability to explore “rural delights within the boundaries of the metropolis will most certainly be an attraction, especially for incentive travellers who like to be treated to short transfers and (have) the next inspiration…just a stone’s throw away”.

Kent predicts the area will grow in popularity in the next few years along with “the delights that the Tokyo rural areas offer, such as farming experiences, cooking the locally-grown produce and the sublime sake that is brewed from the rice and water in these areas”.

More work may need to be done, however, to both raise awareness among industry players of what rural Tokyo has to offer and to compete with areas around Tokyo, according to Jarrod Stenhouse, managing director of Destination Asia Japan.

“We would need to see better options for lunches and activities (to include these areas),” he said, adding that a visit would need to be a “very special experience” in order to be included in schedules given “there is so much to fit in both inside and outside Tokyo – Nikko, Hakone, Kamakura, Yokohama.

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