Few things can offer the weary business traveller more comforting relief than the heated seat of an automated Japanese toilet. This I concluded behind the bathroom door in Citi Shinjuku Apartments in Tokyo after a sleepless 12 hour night flight from London, a 90 minute train journey from the airport and a long moment of jetlagged despair in Shinjuku metro station where the ATMs are carefully hidden, the ticket machines entirely in Japanese and the station staff wholly monolingual in their native tongue.
Over the next three days I visited as many partner properties as time allowed, including Azabu East Apartments and Ward Azabu Apartments. All are located around Tokyo’s main business districts of Shinjuku, Shinagawa, Roppongi and Azabujyuban. As is customary in Japan, behind the main door to each apartment is a little place to remove and store your shoes before donning a pair of slippers to wear while inside. Since size 12 feet are unknown in Japan I carried out most inspections while padding around in socks. As with my first port of call, all bathrooms boasted the latest toilet technology which has taken Japan by storm in the last 20 years despite being largely ignored by the rest of the world. Imagine the chicks of a cliff-dwelling bird which open their mouths wide in hunger as the parent flies back to them. Walk into a bathroom here and the toilet does the same, automatically raising the lid as if it has waited all day to be used and can’t wait a moment longer. Heated seats and auto-flushing are standard while an adjacent control panel offers an array of cleansing options including variable pressure water sprays and air dryers. One property director explained in detail (over lunch) how much she loves a pre-warmed toilet seat and cannot imagine life without one. She may have a point.
Tokyo is vast, very built up, concentrated and not all that pretty. Architectural style gives way to more solid construction owing to the region’s frequent seismic activity. An extensive metro system works perfectly and the station names are displayed in both Japanese and the western alphabet which makes for easy navigation. That said, English is non-existent here, as is any other language but Japanese. Foreigners must learn, rather than read, their way around Tokyo. The city is spotlessly clean which makes it unexpectedly bearable for somewhere so densely populated and the food is out of this world with a near-total absence of flour from the oriental diet. A tiny, standing-only sushi bar with room for no more than eight customers provided the gastronomic highlight of this trip. Every morsel was made on request by the sushi master behind the counter in a matter of seconds and was so fresh that I reckoned the fish were still swimming in the sea an hour before I arrived. The local businessmen having lunch there must have wondered why the awkward-looking foreigner next to them couldn’t stop smiling between mouthfuls.
Thankfully the Japanese are extraordinarily civil, polite and educated, and very forgiving towards foreigners who are unfamiliar with this country’s many customs, forms of address and heightened sense of social etiquette. This is a place where a dropped wallet or forgotten handbag will be left alone until it is reclaimed by its owner. A few words of appreciation read from my phrase book were often met with a respectful bow and it felt only right to reciprocate each time, although bowing here is an acquired skill and technically beyond the experience of this novice. Japan is a great place to start if you’re thinking of becoming a megalomaniac – several days of being bowed to can make anyone feel they are capable of taking over the world.
Political ambitions were put on hold, sadly, as it was time to head from the calm order of chilly Tokyo to warmer, chaotic and extremely humid Hong Kong. Here I was joined by Matthew He, our Far East expert at SilverDoor who is fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin. We spent the first two days attending the Asian Financial Forum where the leading lights in the world of finance (including MP George Osborne) gave their opinions on the future of the global economy, and then it was time to view the properties we represent in Hong Kong. In two days we visited some 16 apartment residences of all shapes and sizes on both Hong Kong Island and neighbouring Kowloon, just across the water from Hong Kong’s famous cityscape. There is something for everyone here across all sorts of styles but a minimum stay of 30 nights appears to be the norm. In all cases, every apartment property we saw was close to the transport network and very well equipped. Particular highlights included North Point Apartments for their great harbour views and on-site facilities and Tung Lo Wan Apartments, which are simply exquisite with superb attention to detail. Each of these units occupies an entire floor of the building with controlled lift access straight into the apartment.
To describe Hong Kong as “bustling” is a little like saying London’s transport network can get slightly busy in the mornings. Hong Kong is tightly packed, crowded and moves at a frantic pace. The build up to the imminent Chinese New Year was as evident as the atmosphere shortly before Christmas in any European city. As a business hub Hong Kong has few competitors nearby: red tape is minimal, highly competitive shipping is cheap and the city still retains a hint of modernity from the history of British presence. Despite ultimately being under Chinese control, Hong Kong is classed as a Special Administrative Region with its own currency and enjoys all the freedoms taken for granted in the west. Its excellent metro system is very cheap to use and passing double decker buses remind one of somewhere closer to home. Good food is everywhere and is generally inexpensive. Street food is also available on many a corner but is probably left to the tougher constitutions of the locals who do seem to love their shopping. What doesn’t sell food in Hong Kong sells luxury goods or household necessities. You can find anything on these streets, from bathroom taps to diamonds and from live lobsters to endless electrical equipment. Tailored suits are also a speciality.
A must-see event in Hong Kong is the Symphony of Lights, a multimedia lighting display which takes place nightly at 8pm along the shoreline of both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Gathering at the edge of Kowloon’s southernmost point, we and thousands of others were treated to a show of laser beams and moving searchlights from the tops of various skyscrapers, all performed in time to a music soundtrack with commentary over a PA system identifying each building as it was lit up. Already named the ‘World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ by Guinness World Records, the Symphony of Lights now spans across more than 40 buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour. Entertaining, if perhaps a little tacky, but oddly fitting for Hong Kong.
Again our time here ended all too quickly and after five days Matthew headed across the border to Guangzhou to see in the Chinese New Year with his family while I flew to Shanghai prior to returning from there to London the following morning. At almost two weeks this longer-than-usual trip was in many respects quite a culture shock, but a very welcome one. To experience the city and its numerous wonders for yourself, take a trip with one of SilverDoor’s serviced apartments in Hong Kong.