Tokyo: the Lost In Translation Tour

May 19, 2014 by


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Make it Suntory times: Bob's seat in the New York Bar

Make it Suntory times: Bob’s seat in the New York Bar

It’s over a decade since Lost In Translation put Tokyo before a whole new audience, but Bill and Scarlett’s path around the Japanese capital is still the best way to experience it.

Tracing its esoteric filming locations to the minutes and seconds they appear on celluloid, the tour takes in the dream-like cityscapes, the hip restaurants and the posh hotel frequented by the morose Americans. All are in a fairly small area of Western Tokyo, specifically the jam-packed and crazy districts of Shibuya and Shinjuku. Pink pants (0m5s) not required.

Tokyo from 44 floors up (and ¥51,050 down)

Tokyo from 44 floors up (and ¥51,050 down)

Park Hyatt Hotel

The real star of Lost In Translation is undoubtedly the Park Hyatt in West Tokyo’s upscale Shinjuku business district, one of the world’s most expensive hotels. It’s also the only one that looks out over the whole of central Tokyo. Between walls panelled with water elm from Hokkaido, there’s a huge bed, remote control curtains (6m50s) and a bathroom to die for.

Aside from the mesmerising view from 44 floors up, relics of the film are all around; tiny white slippers in the wardrobe and Bill Murray’s green kimono (3m42s) in a draw. The hotel’s staff tidy-up in stunning fashion; they wear suits and white gloves, and apologised profusely when I interrupted them putting my toothbrush, toothpaste and shaving kit into alphabetical order on a flannel. Seriously.

This is Hollywood writ large, Tokyo style, but re-enacting Bob-san’s arrival at the Park Hyatt didn’t get off to a great start. There was no limousine at the airport, and lugging a backpack between skyscrapers left me looking less than fresh. This is a hotel built for cabs, with the entire entrance (2m16s) nothing more than a giant taxi ramp.

Aimed at international business travellers who put a high premium on a Zen-like atmosphere, it’s the ideal splurge hotel. It covers the top 14 floors of the granite, steel and glass Shinjuku Park Tower, with summits on the 41st, 47th and 52nd floors. The first is where the dimly-lit lift (setting for the frankly incorrect ‘Japanese people are tiny’ moment, 3m9s) arrives into the atrium (the scene of Bob’s exit and penultimate goodbye to Charlotte, 1hr27m), which holds The Peak café hidden in a small bamboo grove – English afternoon tea, anyone? Service here is discreet and so polite; ‘thank you for waiting’ whisper the staff as they serve me a delicious Japanese breakfast (18m9s), fetch me an umbrella as I leave each morning, or as they make enquiries to book me an ever-so-slightly cheaper hotel for the following night (we weren’t on film star-sized expenses for long).

Don’t miss the Club On The Park, location of the comedic aqua aerobics scene (33m27s) and Bob’s rogue cycling machine (22m16s). Free for guests, the ‘cool pool’ under a glass pyramid ceiling (39m43s) gives 360-degree views over Tokyo, and Bob’s stupid hat is no fiction; the staff insisted I wear one for health reasons despite me being folically barren.

Park Hyatt Hotel, 3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo: ¥5,1050 per night

Jazz in the New York Bar & Grill?

Jazz in the New York Bar & Grill?

New York Park & Grill

Here on the 52nd, and top, floor of the Park Hyatt is where many of the film’s key scenes were filmed. Tourists flock to Bob’s primary seat (the second chair along from the left as you look at the bar – 22m45s and 30m20s) to sip a Suntory Hibiki whisky, though I’m a sad exception; the bartender passes me a glass that looks promising, but turns out to be green tea-over-ice. “For your photos,” he says. Well, it was 7am. Like Lost In Translation director Sophia Coppola and her cast and crew, we had to shoot while the bar was closed. If you only have time/budget for one Lost In Translation visit, make it this one, though you won’t be alone.

New York Bar & Grill, Park Hyatt Hotel, Tokyo – 5pm-midnight (1am on Thurs, Fri & Sat): Cover charge ¥2,200, single 17 year-old Suntory Hibiki ¥2,100

Hachiko's 'crossroads of Asia' from StarBucks

Hachiko’s ‘crossroads of Asia’ from StarBucks

Hachiko Crossing, Shibuya

The setting for Charlotte’s second foray (18m15s) from the Park Hyatt’s cocooned comfort can be your first glimpse of Tokyo proper, too. Just minutes by train from Shinjuku, Hachiko is a ‘crossroads of Asia’ and a ready-made metaphor for the bustling neon-lit life of Tokyoites. It’s close to other Lost In Translation sites, too.

Crossing within the giant screens and neon signs amid an ocean of humanity is most atmospheric at night, though an aerial view by day is essential. For a free gawp, I headed into Starbucks (18m38s), bought a coffee and took to the second floor’s window seats by the stairs; the exact spot that Coppola’s secret guerrilla cameraman stood to film an establishing shot (35m8s).

There are branches of Karaoke-Kan all over Tokyo

There are branches of Karaoke-Kan all over Tokyo

Karaoke-Kan, Shibuya

Just around the corner from Hachiko is the exact branch of this ubiquitous Tokyo chain used in the film (rooms 601 and 602 on the sixth floor, to be exact).

Various singing/inclusive drinks packages are available, but good luck discussing all that with the exclusively Japanese-speaking staff. Getting Peace, Love & Understanding, Brass In Pocket and More Than This (46m34s) up on the karaoke machine should be no problem for those with a pink wig and a working knowledge of Japanese; I phoned reception for help with the Japanese-only touch-panel remote, but they brought beer instead.

Karaoke-Kan, K&F Building, 30-8 Utagawachom: around ¥40 per 30 mins (¥80 on Sat & Sun)

Those taiko drums in Adores

Those taiko drums in Adores

Adores

Across the street is Adores, where Charlotte watches some kids play taiko drums and Guitar Hero prototypes (33m58s). The drums are still in the doorway and Adores is busy 24/7.

Bob & Charlotte's table in ShabuZen

Bob & Charlotte’s table in ShabuZen

Shabuzen Restaurant, Creston Hotel

Walk up Centre Gai from Karaoke-Kan for ten minutes and you’ll reach the rather ugly Creston Hotel, and a door to Shabuzen in the vast basement. A mix of tatami mats, ‘leg wells’ and ‘proper’ tables, it’s not much like the intimate place the film depicts it as, though the overtly yellow light is familiar. About four tables down on the right hand side is where Bob and Charlotte ate shabu shabu (a kind of fondue using thin strips of Japanese marbled beef) in stony silence. The staff are friendly and keep a placard by the cash register proudly boasting of their association with Lost In Translation.

Shibuya Creston Hotel B1F, 10-8 Kamiyamacho, Shibuya-ka, Tokyo: ¥3,900 for shabu shabu or sukiyaki

Charlotte's stepping stones on Garyu-kyou pond in Kyoto

Charlotte’s stepping stones on Garyu-kyou pond in Kyoto

Kyoto Day Trip

Time for a ride on the Shinkansen bullet train (1hr10m53s) to Kyoto. Charlotte climbs the steps in front of Nanzen-ji Temple’s huge Sanmon Gate, and from the other side watches a wedding party walk by (1hr11m32s). I’m guessing Charlotte’s attempt at climbing the giant gate lies in a Hollywood cutting room; my effort was hampered by being told to carry my shoes in a plastic bag, which led to an unfortunate ‘Englishman abroad’ moment on the immensely steep stairs involving, socks, creeping vertigo and profanities – all highly unsuitable in this  HQ of Zen Buddhism.

Charlotte tip-toeing across Garyu-kyou pond (1hr12m19s) can be re-enacted in the garden behind the nearby (and vividly painted) red Heian Jingu temple, whose main courtyard she walks across at dusk (1hr12m50s).

Nanzen-ji Temple & Heian Jingu Temple, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto: ¥27,000 for JR Tokkaido Shinkansen train from Tokyo-Kyoto (2hrs 15 mins)

Heian Jingu Temple, Kyoto

Heian Jingu Temple, Kyoto

Other shooting locations worth a visit include Tokyo harbour’s dazzling Rainbow Bridge (50m25s), best seen from Odaiba on the eastern side of Tokyo Bay, Shibuya’s Air nightclub (42m20s) and absolutely any Pachinko parlour (44m38s).

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About Jamie Carter

Jamie is a professional tech and travel writer who runs TravGear.com, a website dedicated to two of his passions. His travel writing has appeared in The Guardian and inflight magazines Easyjet Traveller and Korean Air's Morning Calm. His day job is writing for MSN, the BBC Sky At Night magazine, and the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong. Jamie is currently writing a book on stargazing and 'dark sky' travel.

  • Nancy Davolio

    Nice place for visit. thanks for posting nice views.

  • Linda Hanchard

    Pictures are very nice! The The real star of Lost In Translation is certainly the Recreation area Hyatt in Western Tokyo’s elegant Shinjuku company region, one of the world’s most an accommodation. It’s also the only one that looks out over the whole of central Tokyo.
    http://deepestpassion.com

  • This makes me wanna go watch Lost in Translation again.. and/or a good excuse to check on Scar Jo’s pretty face.. and of Bill Murray’s. ;)
    Love that movie. Pretty shots. :)

  • Tony Ukena

    Do you have any idea where specifically the final goodbye scene where Murray whispers into Scarlett Johansson’s ears happened?