With a stellar track record of delivering unforgettable events, Tokyo has rightly established itself as a global business events hub. Combining unique venues, sustainable practices, and a reputation for efficiency and safety, it’s a city constantly evolving to meet the needs of business event planners. But while Tokyo is a major focus for business events, there are complementary destinations to pair with the capital too. Take Fukushima Prefecture, an area that offers traditional cultural experiences ideal for a post-convention tour, not to mention compelling educational opportunities related to the region’s recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
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Tokyo: a destination that blends old, new, and future
In 2021, Japan successfully hosted the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games under unprecedented conditions, in part thanks to the stringent hygiene and safety standards routinely applied to events in Japan. While the Games have come and gone, the legacy lives on, with Tokyo now regenerating Games’ venues like the Sea Forest Waterway into unique locations available for business events. The host of rowing and canoeing events in 2021, this 67-ha bayside venue can now be flexibly used for a variety of purposes, from team-building rowing sessions to open-air cocktail parties on a 444-sqm wooden deck, which comes with fresh sea breezes and close-up views of the Tokyo Gate Bridge. Even events with fireworks or taiko drumming are possible, as this huge open-air space is neighbored mostly by water.
Away from the bayside, in the bustling center of the city, business event planners will find even more venues delivering unique settings and experiences, while also striving to operate toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. That includes The Okura Tokyo, a leading event venue since the early-1960s, when it held the first post-war international conference in Japan. Reopened in 2019 after a three-year reconstruction project—with improved environmental credentials such as reduced CO2 emissions, in-house water recycling and leftover disposal systems—the five-star hotel-venue has 19 banquet rooms that can cater to a wide variety of needs. The centerpiece, the 1,968-sqm Heian Room, is an example of how Tokyo seamlessly fuses traditional and contemporary elements, with expansive wall décor inspired by an ancient collection of Japanese poetry, but also state-of-the-art technology behind the scenes.
For business event planners increasingly mindful of the SDGs and a venue’s social impact, The Okura Tokyo is also involved with numerous community projects around Japan, including supporting children’s education in Fukushima. They also display and sell Fukushima and other regions’ crafts at the hotel.
The same can be said for another top Tokyo venue, Happo-en, a sprawling Edo-era (1603-1867) garden with teahouses, restaurants, and slick meeting and convention facilities that blend traditional and contemporary design sensibilities. While that makes Happo-en one of Tokyo’s most distinctive venues, their Sustainable Action initiatives add to their credentials, whether that’s supporting local farmers across Japan or their ongoing relationship with an agricultural high school in Fukushima. Happo-en has taken on an advisory role in developing and marketing amazake, a sweet non-alcoholic beverage, made from Global GAP-certified rice grown by the students.
Tokyo also offers a variety of chances to take a break from business. Taking to the waters of Tokyo Bay for a night cruise is one option that delivers a new perspective on Tokyo, as the city’s high-rise center reflects onto the water. Many operators run tours in large yakatabune houseboats, which takes leisurely trips around Tokyo’s old waterways and bay, as guests enjoy refreshments along with incredible city views.
Fukushima: explore traditional culture and unspoiled nature
For a post-convention tour, there are many areas on Tokyo’s doorstep that offer unforgettable cultural experiences, but Fukushima Prefecture adds extra value with its combination of pristine nature, samurai culture, and even innovation. And it’s easy to access just by taking a bullet train 75 minutes to Koriyama in central Fukushima, from where local transport networks spread out across the region.
A good starting point is the castle town of Aizu-Wakamatsu, a traditional counterpoint to ultra-modern central Tokyo. To call out just some of the experiences for group tours here, you could schedule a visit to the vast Nisshinkan complex—a meticulous reconstruction of Aizu’s former samurai training school—to learn about the region’s samurai roots, try Japanese archery (kyudo) or paint local crafts like Akabeko and Okiagari Koboshi dolls. You could stop by the castle, tour the historic Suehiro sake brewery, or explore the old stores and restaurants along the historic Nanokamachi Street.
From Aizu-Wakamatsu, another option for a post-convention experience is to tour sites located along the Tadami rail line, which fully reopened in October 2022 after a decade of storm-damage repairs on a number of its scenic bridges. From the train window travelers can soak up the sights of rural Japan, but it’s also possible to stop for a traditional boat ride on the Tadami River or visit the picturesque Enzo-ji Temple. Back in Aizu-Wakamatsu, another experience could be to stay at one of the traditional ryokan inns and soak in the hot-spring baths in the city’s Higashiyama Onsen area.
Learning from Fukushima’s regeneration
Just over 40 miles northeast of Aizu, Tsuchiyu Onsen is another traditional hot-spring area with ryokan inns. Tsuchiyu, however, also gives business event planners the possibility of adding an educational element to a business events journey, by visiting the town’s 400 kW binary geothermal power plant to learn how Tsuchiyu Onsen is working toward a more sustainable future. Suited to groups of up to 15 people, a tour here can include a visit to the outdoor plant to hear how the town is hoping to eventually power itself fully with clean energy (it currently sells the energy to fund school buses and the promotion of local crafts, among other things) and have local businesses set SDG targets. Elsewhere in the town, business event groups could try painting the local kokeshi dolls, have a dip in a hot-spring bath, or sample artisanal produce like hard cider.
Seventy miles southeast, on Fukushima’s coast, are more venues that can add an educational element to a business events-related tour, with several locations connected to the region’s recovery – all elements that are part of Fukushima’s forward-thinking Hope Tourism initiative. A tour here could start at NARREC, a research institute supporting the decommissioning of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and restoration of Fukushima as a core center for remote control technology development. Able to receive tours of up to 45 people, visitors can see mock-up test buildings where cutting-edge robots are tested, but also take an impressive VR journey into a nuclear reactor.
A short drive away, two related stops also suited to groups of up to 45, could be the Ruins of Ukedo Elementary School and the Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum. While the remains of the school serve as a poignant memorial to the disaster, the museum pays respect to the victims while also documenting how the disasters unfolded, future disaster mitigation, and how Fukushima is regenerating, in part as a technology hub.
Put it all together and Fukushima and Tokyo combine the best elements of old Japan, new Japan, and future Japan to deliver an ever-evolving array of options for business event planners, merging state-of-the-art venues, stunning nature, and inspiring educational opportunities for a truly unique business event experience.