Global View: Tokyo |  Home of the world’s best sushi?
March 27, 2009 2:00 AM


Tokyo is a world finance, headquarters and transportation hub

Shana Lawlor, president of Alainn Exporting in Arlington, looks forward to attending Foodex Japan in Tokyo each year. The international food and beverage exhibition is one of the largest shows of its kind in the Asia/Pacific market, attracting more than 90,000 visitors.

“This year we went from a small booth with a few products to a larger booth where our importer in Tokyo showed a larger array of our products,” says Lawlor. “The show attracts an amazing assortment of attendees from all over the world.”

Lawlor is focusing her attention on the Asia/Pacific marketplace as well as Europe because of increased interest in organic foods. “The Asia/Pacific marketplace is expected to grow 18 percent through 2010,” she says.

Asian consumers are looking for healthier foods, and their demand is driving the marketplace. Recent food scares in China are another reason why the Asian marketplace is searching for safer, more or­­­ganic products.  “They are looking at other places that they can source food from,” says Lawlor.

She helps companies expand their product base in Asian markets by tailoring products to a country’s tastes and packaging needs. Japan, for instance, requires smaller packaging to accommodate consumers’ buying habits.  “They buy for any given day or meal,” Lawlor says.  “They like single servings instead of bulk packaging.”

To market products, Lawlor deals with an importer in Japan and also meets with distributors, brokers and retailers. “Retailers work within a rigid process to get products into their stores,” she explains. “There can be three or four people in the supply chain before the product gets to the retailer. It can take months to get a product cleared into Japan. Their food standards are so strict.”
When she gets time away from work in Tokyo, Lawlor explores the city. Tokyo has 23 wards, each of which is unique.

The Shibuya ward, for example, is home to shopping, fashion and entertainment. One of its most photographed streets (in front of the Hachiko train station exit) resembles Times Square in New York with neon signs, large video screens and scores of pedestrians.

Visitors who want a glimpse of Old Tokyo head to the Asakusa ward where they will find a seventh-century Buddhist temple, Sensoji, as well as a local shopping market.

The Ginza ward, on the other hand, offers upscale shopping boutiques and art galleries. On weekend afternoons the ward becomes a pedestrian area, free of cars.

The city’s economy

Like New York and London, Tokyo is a world finance center with some of the world’s biggest investment banks, in addition to the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The city has a diversified economic base with a variety of business sectors, including insurance, publishing, automotives and electronics. Tokyo serves as the headquarters of at least 47 companies included in the Global 500. Some of the best-known companies are Honda, Japan Airlines, Mitsubishi and electronics giants Sony and Toshiba. Access Co. Ltd., also based in Tokyo, provides technology, software products and platforms for Web browsing, mobile phones, wireless handhelds and other networked devices. Many other companies are headquartered in Chiba, Kawasaki and Yokohama, Tokyo’s neighboring cities.

What to eat
Lawlor can’t visit Tokyo without eating sushi. “Tokyo has some of the best sushi in the world,” she says. One of her favorite restaurants is Kushinobo, where patrons can choose food to be placed on a skewer before being fried at their table. Other popular spots are Suehiro, featuring steak and fried vegetables, and Midori Sushi. “Midori has amazing sushi,” she says. “Tokyo is one place where I will try different things because the food standards are so strict. They make sure the food is healthy for human consumption.”

Where to stay
Two of Lawlor’s favorite hotels are the stylish Hotel Francs, which has a breakfast lounge, upscale restaurant and the Turtle Club Bar, and the Hotel New Otani, which has a 10-acre Japanese garden. The property features several restaurants, shopping, an art museum, tea house and garden chapel. Two other hotels of note are the Four Seasons Marunouchi in the central business district with only 57 rooms and suites and the Four Seasons Chinzan-so Tokyo. The Marunouchi includes egg-shaped bathtubs, minimal décor and a spa. The Chinzan-so hotel sits in a historic area with a 17-acre Japanese garden.

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