Planners appear to be increasingly interested in booking nontraditional venues for their events. From historical buildings to cultural facilities, these unique spaces can transform standard meetings and receptions into exclusive, unforgettable experiences.
A mixture of tradition and modernity, Tokyo is home to a vast array of unique, historic and cultural venues eager to meet this demand, including art museums, classical Japanese gardens, shrines, temples, aquariums, theme parks and skyscrapers.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau (TCVB) are collaborating to promote specifically chosen spaces in Tokyo for MICE (meetings, incentive, conference and exhibition) projects. Starting with the upcoming Rugby World Cup 2019 and the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, the TMG and TCVB expect to see these facilities widely used. The Tokyo Unique Venues service center was launched within TCVB’s office to support those interested in adding a unique spin to their events.
Among the places listed are Kiyosumi Gardens and Hamarikyu Gardens, beautiful and historic gardens with Japanese architectural details, providing the perfect atmosphere for memorable events thanks to their breathtaking backdrops.
Kiyosumi Gardens are kaiyushiki teien (Japanese strolling gardens) from the Meiji Era (1868-1912), located in Koto Ward. Originally believed to be an Edo merchant’s residence, Yataro Iwasaki, founder of Mitsubishi Corp., bought the property in 1878 for his employees and to entertain guests.
The Iwasaki family collected many meiseki (beautiful landscaping stones) from all over Japan to be placed around the garden. Iso-watari (large stepping stone pathways) and stone bridges were created, where guests can stroll while admiring fish, turtles or reflections of surrounding trees in the pond.
The 40-square-meter Ryotei teahouse, known for its refined sukiya-zukuri (traditional wooden architecture), appears as if it were floating over the pond, and was built by Iwasaki to welcome Field Marshal Horatio Kitchener in 1909. Interested parties can book dinner receptions featuring a gorgeous view of the garden or hold outdoor parties in front of the 475-square-meter Taisho Kinenkan Hall.
Built in the Edo Period (1603-1868) and formerly owned by the Tokugawa shogunate, the Hamarikyu Gardens are located in Chuo Ward in central Tokyo. Originally the Tokugawa shogun’s hunting site, the gardens were acquired by the Imperial family after the Meiji Restoration and were donated to Tokyo in 1945. In 1952, the Hamarikyu Gardens were officially named a site of great cultural and historical value.
The approximately 250,000-square-meter gardens are at the mouth of the Sumida River where it flows into Tokyo Bay and are surrounded by a seawater moat with tidal ponds. Upon entering the otemon (main gate), guests will come across an impressive 300-year-old pine tree. The flowery fields and a peony garden in contrast with the surrounding Shiodome skyscrapers make it a truly unique place in Tokyo.
Shioiri no Ike is the only remaining seawater pond in Tokyo; its water levels rise and fall with the tides via a sluice. Nakajima no Ochaya (400 square meters), the tea house originally built in 1704, is surrounded by this tidal pond and is a perfect place where guests can relax and appreciate the view. A mix of outdoor spaces can accommodate up to 1,000 guests at a time.
Aside from these two Japanese gardens, there are a variety of other unique venues. These include the Tokyo Sea Life Park aquarium, the TMG building and four museums — the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum and the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum.
Built in 1933 as the former residence of Prince Yasuhiko Asaka and Princess Nobuko, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is famous for its art-deco main building. Receptions can be held in the stylish new annex on the same historic site.
Another interesting space is Nogi Shrine in Minato Ward, where both the inner shrines and shrine grounds can be rented out with an option of a gagaku (ancient court music) performance for a culturally inspiring experience.
More information on the many other facilities is also available at the Tokyo Unique Venues website (businesseventstokyo.org/tokyo-unique-venues-brochures/).