Join the network

Tokyo: Cherry blossom and neon lights

Luxury & Lifestyle 14-06-2017

Fusing sci-fi cityscapes with a respect for all things past, travel editor Varun Sharma tell us how he fell in love with Tokyo.

My childhood home in Surrey boasted a single cherry tree that annually bloomed into a most incredible sight.
Every spring, the air (and lawn) would be filled with millions of beautiful pink and white blossoms. Alas, the phenomenon only lasted a couple of days and we would have to wait another year for its magnificence to return.

I first visited Tokyo in 1990 – arriving at the end of March. After a painful night of excruciating jetlag, I went for a sunrise meander around the Imperial Palace. I had, inadvertently, arrived during the main ‘hanami’ season – when the whole
of the city was drowned in cherry blossom – Japan’s national flower. It was a sign and I knew immediately, I would always love this incredible city.

There’s a lot to be afraid of when visiting Japan for the first time: the language barrier, the intricate etiquette, the ever- suspicious stares, the hands-free electronic remote-controlled toilets, the confusing mobile phone service, the currency, the bowing… but with an open mind and a sense of adventure, the country and its capital Tokyo will be the most exciting and memorable holiday of your life.

From Narita Airport to Tokyo city centre can be a painful (both physically and financially) two hours by limousine – so it’s best to take a superfast train. You will see Disneyland on the way… an attraction to avoid unless you have a hankering for curry-flavoured popcorn served-up by an over-happy mouse.

Until the turn of the century, Tokyo luxury hotels were behemoths of ‘local’ luxury. Very little English was spoken, the beds were small and uncomfortable, service was uniform (nothing personal!) and it was all a little
too parochial. Then everything went crazy!

I first met Malcolm Thompson in 2002 when he was the gaijin (foreigner) General Manager of the Park Hyatt Tokyo. This landmark property would become – for at least a few months – the most famous luxury hotel in the world when it featured in Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s magnificent travel/ comedy-drama opus – starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray.

The film came out in 2003 but I had already stayed in the very suite, drank a Manhattan in the very American Bar and swam in the very pool that was Murray’s Tokyo ‘home’.

It was, and still is, an incredible property with breath-taking views over the city and on one of the two clear days of the year, you can see as far as Mount Fuji – 130 kilometres away.

Malcolm moved to open, what is now, my favourite hotel in Tokyo –
The Peninsula. Located in Yurakucho
– close to the famous Ginza and Marunouchi luxury, shopping districts – The Peninsula Tokyo opened in September 2007.

Set over 24 floors and shaped like a Japanese lantern, the hotel offers 314 guestrooms.

One of its main sells is that its nearest neighbour is the Emperor of Japan who lives in the Imperial Palace – just a few hundred metres from the hotel in Hibiya Park.

The hotel offers many restaurants and bars but the Lobby – which boasts a ‘traditional English afternoon tea service’ – is one of the most popular eateries in Tokyo with queues often snaking around the block. More often than not, you will find Malcolm meeting and greeting guests in the Lobby. He was once a soap-opera actor and has a charismatic way with people.

The hotel has its quirks – you MUST wear a swimming cap in the pool, there is a wind speed and direction indicator in each guestroom, the hotel offers a wedding chapel and you are encouraged not to stare out of the windows in the direction of the Imperial Palace – it is deemed disrespectful.


  • Close to the Tsukiji Fish Market – an incredible early morning experience
  • Close to Karaoke Kan – where singing out of tune is more acceptable than not singing at all!
  • Close to the Shibuya Crossing – the famous street intersection
  • The superb and futuristic facilities
  • Malcolm Thompson
  • Location
  • All the staff speak perfect English


  • No vending machines that sell chilled beer close by
  • Teeth-rattlingly expensive in every way
  • The electronic toilets – the ‘Do Not Be Afraid of Me’ signs really don’t help.


Varun Sharma is the host of Inside Luxury Travel – a television show that focuses on high-end travel. The show airs in over 120 countries, in 21 languages and is beamed into 1 billion homes worldwide.

Ultra rare 55-year-old whisky collection celebrates mood of the ‘Swinging Sixties’
Luxury & Lifestyle 06-09-2022

Ladyburn Edition Two has been launched by world-leading rare whisky house, William Grant & Sons. The ultra rare 55-year-old whisky is paired with rarely seen images from the archive of. MORE

Atul Kochhar: The ‘Master of Spices’ lights up Wembley with street food offering
Luxury & Lifestyle 02-11-2021

Wembley is known to host the biggest names in the world, and now, with the arrival of Atul Kochhar’s Masalchi, it has a twice Michelin-starred chef to add to the. MORE

Time out with Roger Dubuis
Luxury & Lifestyle 15-10-2021

In that little window between lockdown and everything opening up properly, we managed to steal a day with three magical pieces from Roger Dubuis. A watch for morning, afternoon and evening. MORE

Want to see more?
Register for FREE with a few details to continue reading.