Japan deftly balances its penchant for innovating futuristic technology with preserving thousands of years of culture. A similar dichotomy exists in its cities, as towering skyscrapers cohabit with historic shrines, and amid its population, which can be as engrossed by its 21st century gadgetry as by maintaining a simple Zen garden.
For groups venturing to Japan, history and heritage appear at every turn.
“Japan has a wealth of cultural experiences and teambuilding opportunities available,” said Ryoko Hasegawa, director of the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), Los Angeles office. “Whether learning to make sushi, handcrafting pottery or participating in a traditional tea ceremony, unique and immersive experiences can be found all over the country.”
Meagan McTaggart, convention specialist for the JNTO’s New York office, concurs that the cultural highlights groups can experience are extensive.
“There are several per city and the main ones include wearing a kimono, dance/martial arts demos, playing traditional instruments, sampling local foods, making origami, theater performances, visiting castles and shrines, famous pilgrimage hikes, and going to festivals,” McTaggart said.
Aside from immersive experiences, groups can also arrange off-site events at a full scope of historic and cultural venues throughout the country, including its largest city of Tokyo, which is gearing up to host the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games.
More than 9 million people live in Tokyo’s 23 wards. Within that expanse, groups can find respite at Hama-rikyu Gardens, built in the Edo Period (1603-1867), where attendees can attend a tea ceremony at a teahouse located in the middle of a pond, according to the Tokyo CVB.
For off-site options, the Art Deco Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, built in 1933, can host receptions in its new annex lobby, terrace and cafe. Meanwhile, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, located within Ueno Park, can host 200 guests.
The Tokyo Photographic Art Museum reopened in 2016 after extensive renovations. Groups can combine a party in the second-floor lobby with a private viewing of the exhibitions. Another cultural draw, the Edo-Tokyo Museum, documents the history of the city in the Edo Period. Groups are welcome, though the museum will be undergoing a renovation and closed from October through March 2018.
Other city improvements in preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games include a new national stadium in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. Tokyo Big Sight, or the Tokyo International Exhibition Center, and the Tokyo International Forum are undergoing renovations as well, according to the Tokyo CVB.
Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo recently opened a special Club Lounge on the 45th floor, which features meeting spaces. Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho opened last year with 250 guest rooms, and on tap are the Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo, slated to open in 2018 with 164 guest rooms, and the Four Seasons Hotel in Otemachi, Tokyo, set for a spring 2020 debut.
South of Tokyo, Yokohama is known for its mixture of Japanese and Western culture, according to Chiho Matsunaga, with the Yokohama CVB’s Business Events Team, partly a result of its history as the first harbor city used as an entrance to Japan.
Today, diverse cultures dominate the landscape, from Western-style houses to Japan’s biggest Chinatown.
Sankei-en garden, formerly the private home of a wealthy silk merchant, stands as one of the city’s most popular attractions and can be used by groups for an off-site. Today it contains historical houses and buildings including a pagoda constructed in Kyoto in the mid-1400s, relocated to Sankei-en in 1914.
For those intrigued by Japanese noodles, Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum was founded in 1994 as the world’s first food-themed amusement park. The complex includes nine ramen shops in a streetscape replication from 1958, the year that the world’s first instant ramen was invented. Groups can also use the Yokohama Museum of Art for receptions.
A new convention facility will open in 2020 adjacent to the PACIFICO Yokohama convention complex, and will feature more than 460,000 square feet of space. Also in store for 2019 is a new 2,400-room APA Hotel and Resort and the 297-room Hyatt Regency Yokohama.