For 2 weeks in June 2016, ULI Northwest staff guided a delegation of North American ULI Members on a study tour of Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Kyoto. This was the first trip of its kind organized by a U.S. District Council with assistance with our counterparts from ULI Mainland China and ULI Japan.
Our trip began in Beijing, the capital city and government seat of China. The first day in Beijing was set aside for cultural tours. We managed to see both the Forbidden Palace and the Great Wall in one day, which were both absolutely amazing in terms of scale and historical scope.
The next day was a huge day of business and development tours including visits to the offices of Hongkong Land, SOM Architects, JLL’s Beijing office, and SOHO China. In the evening we were hosted by Adam Yu at his Winland headquarters in the Beijing Financial Street area.
The following day we wrapped things up in Beijing and took the high speed rail to Shanghai. Averaging 150 mph, the train covers 820 miles in about 5 hours. Upon arrival at the Hongqiao Transporation Hub in Shanghai, we did a brief tour of an attached mixed use project known as The Hub which provides business, leisure, and entertainment facilities for Hongqiao workers and residents of West Shanghai.
After getting settled in at the Jing-An Shangri-La Hotel, where our participants would also be attending the ULI Asia Pacific Summit, we embarked for a guided Night Market tour by UnTour Shanghai. Our excellent guide led us through the Shouning Lu Street Market area where we experienced the finest in unique local street food cuisine.
The ULI Asia Pacific Summit filled the next few days with sessions, keynotes, networking, and idea sharing. Our last afternoon and evening in Shanghai consisted of a tour of the Disney Research China Lab, which is dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of Disney’s construction and operations around the world. We then had a wonderful night out in the Hunan Road District.
Saturday morning, we flew from Shanghai to Tokyo and arrived at the Imperial Hotel in the Ginza District in the mid afternoon. We started off our visit to Tokyo with an out-of-this-world sushi dinner at the hidden gem known as Sushi Yuu in the Nishi-Azabu neighborhood near Roppongi. We may or may not have followed that up with a visit to a nearby karaoke bar.
Sunday was our day for Tokyo cultural tours, starting off with a walk through of the Meiji Shrine and Gardens. After that, we made our way through the Harejuku and Shibuya districts on our way to the fabulous Nezu Museum. We then spent the rest of the afternoon at the Tokyo Dome taking in a few innings of the raucous Marines vs. Giants baseball game.
On Monday, we had our day of business and development tours in Tokyo. We started off with a breakfast with the ULI Japan Chair, Shuji Tomikawa of Mitsui Fudosan. Then we traveled to the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills where we were hosted by a delegation from the Mori Building Company. They showed us an incredible 1/1000 scale model of all of Tokyo along side a same scale model of Manhattan.
After getting a tour of the retail and residential areas of the Mori Tower, we headed up to the top floors where the Mori Art Museum resides. Containing a rotating collection of modern art works from all over the world, it’s a unique and compelling experience that shouldn’t be missed.
From there we took a tour of the Shimizu Corporation headquarters near the Ginza District. The Shimizu HQ is a distinctly Japanese take on a sustainable office building, with hundreds of solar panels built into the exterior facade, state of the art climate control features, and built with low impact construction materials. It also features the latest in seismic damage prevention technology.
After one more lovely night out in Tokyo, most of the group departed for home, but a smaller group remained for the 2 day cultural tour of Japan’s cultural capital of Kyoto.
After a speedy ride on Shinkansen (Japan’s high speed rail), we arrived in Kyoto and met up with our guide, Nemo Glassman. Nemo is a Portlander-turned-Kyoto-local, whom we had the pleasure of getting to know during our time in Japan. We quickly dropped our luggage at our ryokans—traditional Japanese guesthouses—and were off to explore the city. The first stop was a kaiseki lunch at Daitoku-ji temple complex, where we experienced true tea house-style architecture and lovely zen gardens. In the afternoon, we visited the Golden Pavilion, a quintessential Kyoto landmark, and then toured the peaceful grounds at Ryoan-ji temple, including the famous rock garden. For dinner, we met Nemo’s chef friend, called “The General.” The General treated us to classic Kyoto cuisine and sake tastings that went long into the night.
The next morning, we started off our full day in Kyoto with a visit to Sanjūsangen-dō temple, which holds 1001 life-sized statues of Kannon, a bodhisattva representing mercy. We continued our tour of Kyoto’s best temples at Kiyomizu complex, and enjoyed strolling down the busy shopping streets of the Higashiyama District among tourists dressed in kimonos. We were tempted to do our own ULI kimono photoshoot, but ultimately decided against it, in case the photos found their way online!
In the afternoon we were guests at a traditional tea ceremony; a few of us even had the chance to try our hand at making the famous matcha tea. Following the ceremony, we joined a Japanese monk who led us through a guided meditation session. He was charming, yet straightforward in his responses. His biggest piece of advice for those new to meditation? “Don’t lie to yourself.”
We ended the day with a beautifully presented dinner in the main garden room at Yoshikawa Ryokan, which is known to have some of the best Tempura Kaiseki in Kyoto. While the food was indeed spectacular, the real highlight of the evening was the entertainment from a Maiko and a Geiko (read: Geisha). Dressed in beautiful kimonos, they sang, danced, and taught us traditional games. The evening was the perfect way to end an incredible trip.
For further China & Japan Study Tour highlights, including sketches by participant Brendan Connolly from Mithun, check out our slideshow of the trip.