Where to Convene in Japan: Tokyo, Yokohama and Matsue
Each year, the Japan National Tourism Organization hosts “Meet Japan”, a sponsored trip that introduces international convention decision-makers to various destinations within the country.
This year, the group consisted of approximately 30 association event planners and four event industry journalists. We were divided into groups of five or six, each of which were sent to two cities to conduct “study tours,” or site visits designed to showcase the unique character of the destination as well as its meeting facilities.
The tour I was part of included visits to Yokohoma and Matsue, as well as the Marunouchi area of Tokyo — all of which have facilities to host mid-to-large conventions, meetings and trade shows.
Here are some of the highlights of my experience.
As Japan’s capital, Tokyo is one of the most heavily populated cities in the world. Home to approximately 37 million people, it’s no wonder the city has the modern infrastructure to host such events as the 2020 Olympics.
Yet the city also successfully blends old with new. In the midst of urban areas, you will find tranquil Buddhist temples, such as Sensō-ji and Shinto shrines like Kanda Myōjin and Meiji Jingū, all spiritual sanctuaries where people still come to worship and pray for good fortune.
While our group did not spend much time in Tokyo, we did have the option to attend a portion of the Japan International MICE Expo at the Tokyo International Forum. It’s a testament to its popularity that all the meeting rooms in the facility were in use!
Tokyo International Forum
Built in 1996, Tokyo International Forum hosts hundreds of conferences, exhibitions, musical performances and other events each year. Centrally located in Marunouchi (the city’s financial district) near Tokyo Station, the facility has eight halls or ballrooms, 34 conference rooms, a 16,400-square-foot exhibition hall and a 5,000-seat movie theater, plus restaurants and shops open to the public.
Some halls are column-free divisible spaces that work for exhibitions or groups needing large classroom-set rooms; others are amphitheaters with stages and acoustics that accommodate anything from lectures to musical performances.
The award-winning design — the building is shaped like a glass boat — is striking, allowing natural light to fill the meeting spaces even on the rainiest of days (as our group experienced).
Sustainability is a top priority for the facility, which utilizes renewable energy to reduce CO2 emissions and keeps a daily and yearly tally on its website.
Tokyo Big Sight
With 757,500 sq. ft. of floor space, Tokyo Big Sight, also known as Tokyo International Exhibition Center, is the largest convention and exhibition space in Japan and as such, is worth a mention even though I did not have the opportunity to visit the venue on this trip.
Big Sight contains multiple exhibit halls and meeting rooms to host the largest of conventions. Current and upcoming events include Content Tokyo, Asia’s largest event for content producers and distributors, with 1350 exhibitors and 46,000 attendees, and Fashion World Tokyo/Fashion World Tokyo - Retail, all produced by Reed Exhibitions.
Most recently, Big Sight hosted UFI Asia-Pacific Conference. UFI is the global association of the world’s leading trade show organizers, large national and international exhibition associations and industry partners. UFI represents 50,000 exhibition industry employees globally and works closely with 52 national and regional affiliated association members.
Big Sight is located approximately 30 minutes from both Tokyo Station and Haneda International Airport, and 60 minutes from Narita International Airport.
A mere 40 minutes by bus, train or car from central Tokyo, and less than 20 minutes from Haneda by bus, Yokohama is a cosmopolitan port city with a modern infrastructure and 3.7 million residents. When cruise ships pull into Tokyo Bay, Yokohama is where they dock. The port dates back to the Japan and US Treaty of Peace and Amity signed in the mid 1800s that opened Japan to American trade. Now, the city brands itself as Japan’s first port of call.
Facility, accommodation and tour assistance can be obtained through the Yokohama Convention and Visitors Bureau or via JNTO.
One of the largest convention complexes in the world, PACIFICO Yokohama can host meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions.
The PACIFICO Exhibition Hall has 65,000 square feet of column-free space that can be divided into four sections. The attached Annex Hall provides an additional 4,400 square feet, divisible into form six rooms surrounded by a foyer, with an open terrace on one end. And the Conference Center contains 50 meeting rooms to use for sessions, offices or any other meeting needs.
Visitors to the PACIFICO National Convention Hall are greeted by a stained glass window depicting constellation mythology scenes, in the same blue and gold colors seen throughout the building. For convention general sessions, ceremonies and concerts, the National Convention Hall can seat up to 5,000 attendees in a built-in tiered theater with classroom-style seats that include a fold-out writing surface. The glass-fronted seaside lobby offers an outdoor deck with stunning views of Yokohama Bay.
PACIFICO Yokohama is adding a new building, connected to the Exhibition and Annex Halls by walkways, which will be called PACIFICO North. Due to open in Spring 2020, PACIFICO North will add another 154,000 square feet to the complex. It will include one of Japan’s largest multi-purpose halls, able to hold up to 6,000 attendees with a theater-style set, 2,300 for banquets or up to 5,000 for receptions. This space will be divisible into six sections.
The second, third and fourth floors will contain another 27 meeting rooms. A new 146-room hotel adjacent to the complex is slated to open in Summer 2020.
InterContinental Yokohama Grand
Designed to look like a ship from a distance, the 594-room InterContinental Yokohama Grand is right next to the PACIFICO complex and continues the convention center’s ocean theme. Guest rooms offer either a bay view or a view of the nearby urban amusement park with its iconic giant ferris wheel.
The InterContinental contains 15 meeting rooms, a spa and fitness center, and eight dining options including French, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and the Pier 21 floating restaurant, with views of Yokohama Port and the Bay Bridge.
Guests wishing to see a little more of the local area can catch Le Grand Bleu, the first cruise boat exclusively operated for a hotel in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Excursions around the Yokohama Minato Mirai canal show off the ferris wheel, the Nippon Maru sailing ship, Osanbashi Terminal and the Red Brick Warehouse, a historical building that now contains a shopping mall, banquet hall and more event venues.
Yokohama Royal Park Hotel
Situated on the top floors (52 to 67) of Landmark Tower Yokohama, Royal Park Hotel contains 603 guest rooms with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. On a clear day, Mt. Fuji is visible, and we were lucky enough to see the iconic peak. The hotel contains 12 meeting rooms, ranging in size from 13,700 to the 51,000-sq.-ft. Hoh-Shoh ballroom, the largest in Yokohama.
On-property restaurants specialize in an array of cuisines, including Chinese, French, Japanese and teppanyaki. The Royal Park also contains a fitness center with a pool, an aromatherapy spa, a cake shop, florist, barber, photo studio and a room for daily tea ceremonies.
Located on the northwest coast, Matsue, known as the City of Water due to its proximity to the Sea of Japan and the brackish Lake Shinji, offers a quieter alternative for groups of up to 5,000 attendees. Matsue is the capital of Shimane Prefecture, the second least populous region in Japan. Approximately 600,000 people live in the prefecture, but only one-third of those live in Matsue and its neighboring city Izumo.
The Izumo Taisha shrine, located 40 minutes by bus from Matsue City, may well be the oldest shrine in all of Japan. The god Okuninushi is said to have created Japan and ruled Izumo. Today, he is known as the deity of good relationships.
Izumo Taisha is said to be the annual meeting place for the kami, or Shinto gods — so, in essence, as I was told by our guides, the first convention destination in Japan. (How appropriate!) The gods are said to still convene there every year for a month-long period that starts mid-November.
Facility, accommodation and tour assistance can be obtained through the Matsue Convention Bureau or via JNTO.
Located in the center of Matsue City, the Kunibiki Messe (Shimane Prefectural convention center) contains a 13,100-sq.-ft. divisible exhibition hall that can be used to hold groups of up to 5,000 seated theater style; a 2,250 sq. ft. multi-purpose hall; 510-seat conference hall and 19 meeting rooms. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the building.
Matsue Excel Hotel Tokyu
A six-minute walk to Kunibiki Messe, Matsue Excel Hotel Tokyu is situated across from JR Matsue Station. While perhaps smaller than the average Westerner is used to, rooms in the 163-room property are cost effective, and rates even include a buffet breakfast.
This was the only property we saw, but we were told that there are many Japanese-style ryokans as well as additional Western-style hotels located a bit further from the convention center.
Special Event Venues and Recommended Activities
Any group coming to Matsue will want to experience Japanese culture and history. A visit to Matsue Castle, one of only 12 remaining castle towers in Japan, gives visitors a true sense of the latter. It’s is the second-largest, third-tallest and fifth-oldest castle in Japan. Visitors can tour the castle, then take the hour-long Horikawa boat ride around the castle moat, which goes under 16 different bridges — a few are low enough to require the awning to be lowered and all passengers to bend into a position reminiscent of prayer.
Just 20 minutes away from the Kunibiki Messe by bus, Matsue Vogel Park is a paradise for flower and bird lovers. The park’s multiple greenhouses include a banquet hall laden with colorful flowers that can hold groups of up to 500 people. Visitors can also interact with an astonishing variety of birds, including macaws, owls, pink ibises and even African penguins, which parade around their greenhouse at specified times each day.
Yuushien Garden, known for its gardens filled with 250 varieties of peonies, and for ginseng, has something in bloom all year ‘round. The garden, located 20 minutes’ drive away (in the opposite direction to Matsue Vogel Park), on Daikonshima Island, has restaurant facilities onsite and can also offer traditional Japanese cuisine catering for events.
Both Matsue and Yokohama offer subsidies for groups of a certain size bringing international visitors to Japan.
Whether you opt for a city with state-of-the-art convention facilities such as Tokyo or Yokohama, or an area rich in tradition like Matsue, meeting in Japan is sure to provide a unique, memorable experiences that your attendees will treasure.