Feasting on variety at Tokyo Haneda

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Each time I visit Tokyo Haneda Airport, I’m reminded of exactly why it is ranked towards the top of the consumer-voted Skytrax list of the world’s best airports each year. As we reported last week, Haneda was second only to Singapore Changi in the voting for World’s Best Airport, Changi having won for the seventh year in a row.

Power to the people: The ‘We are Tokyo’ slogan that embodies the consumer-facing attitudes of Tokyo Haneda staff across departments and roles.

Not only is Haneda in good company here, it tops several category rankings too, among them for World’s Cleanest Airport (check out the spotless toilets if you ever pay a visit, as I did today); and for Most Accessible Facilities, another important accolade that speaks to how Tokyo International Air Terminal (TIAT) treats disabled guests.

When you’re here you can see the guest welcome first hand. The ‘We Are Tokyo’ slogan isn’t just words; it’s carried around by staff here like a badge of honour.

You want variety? You got it here at Haneda. (Note also the neat little touches such as the red cloth covering the public benches, here and across the terminal, to add to visitor comfort; how many airports do that?)

What mystifies me though is that Haneda is never ranked high on the Skytrax list for Best Airport Dining (won this year by Hong Kong International). For me, in the traditional-style Edo Market landside, Haneda has some of the most diverse and exciting food options of any airport in the world.

Food, glorious food: Rich variety and depth to the dining offer in Edo Market landside at Haneda.
And it’s cherry blossom season too…

There’s a smattering of international but really it’s all about Japan. Do you want sushi? Haneda has got it, in several locations. Tonkatsu? Tick. Ramen noodles. Tick. Yakiniku. Tick. Sukiyaki or Shabushabu? Tick and tick again. There’s even a counter that only sells eel, but magnificently soft, succulent and slow cooked, far from the rubbery texture you might expect if it was served to you in Europe.

We are Tokyo, not anywhere else: The dining offer should and does reflect that beautifully.

I made a point of arriving early at Haneda today before my meeting with TIAT/JATCo, simply to dine. In the end I went for tonkatsu, where in the restaurant I chose you are greeted like a long-lost friend (even though nearly everyone is passing through), where the pork cutlet melts in your mouth and where the service is polished and professional.

I later asked about Haneda’s reputation for food and it was explained to me that the lack of airside space devoted to the category is a key reason for its relative standing in Skytrax. That and the fact that it is almost solely Japanese, with no Starbucks and no McDonalds, to which some overseas guests take exception.

My reaction? Don’t dilute the Sense of Place! Those international brands do a fine job serving vast numbers of customers and making money for their partners and for airports, but they don’t have to be everywhere. In Japan, where the food is so exceptional, and where even within Japanese cuisine there is such diversity and discovery to be made, why would you opt for anything else?

Terrific tonkatsu: Quiet, under-stated but a quality meal at Haneda landside.

My visit to Haneda was part of a whistlestop tour of key travel retail locations in Japan this week and early next. I began with several memorable days in the company of the Shiseido Group, its media team and (yesterday) its senior management, for the opening of its Global Innovation Center in Yokohama.

It’s a milestone moment for the beauty house as it targets the next wave of growth, with travel retail a key platform.

The Shiseido GIC celebrates 100-plus years of research in beauty, and the brand’s impact on Japanese society. Below, the Beauty Bar, where visitors can have their skin analysed and a bespoke formula created.

The site is state of the art and stunning, with spaces created for interaction with the public – unusual for an R&D facility but a move that makes perfect sense. And crucially, it’s not just about product development; Shiseido wants to be at the forefront of changing societal attitudes to women’s roles, the environment, ageing and its innovations (and the people who drive them) will reflect that.

We had a fascinating group interview on Tuesday with President & CEO Masahiko Uotani, who was candid about the journey that Shiseido has taken on female empowerment, sustainability and other issues, but freely acknowledged that there is much more to do, and that in conservative Japan making it happen is no easy task.

It was refreshing to hear a CEO be as open about his own company, category and society in this way (the interview in full will appear soon), and to see Shiseido taking the responsibility of leadership with action and not just words. The next steps on its journey will be fascinating to watch.

Out of the shadows: Shiseido Group President Masahiko Uotani on what a brand should represent in society.

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