The Japanese Grand Prix has increased dramatically in popularity in recent years, making the Suzuka circuit one of the most atmospheric. Japanese fans are enthusiastic and knowledgable and the setting is fascinating, located 50 kilometres south west of Japan’s third largest and densely populated city, Nagoya, with rural, wild landscapes close by. The track itself is owned by Honda and is a self-contained facility with several hotels and restaurants where many visitors choose to spend the duration of the Grand Prix, but those craving more excitement and luxury, usually stay in one of the nearby cities either Nagoya (an hour’s drive away) or Tokyo (2.5 hours away).
The Hilton Hotel is the most popular option in Nagoya for its central location and excellent amenities. As expected of the hotel group, interiors lean on the edge of corporate, but the Japanese suites are more traditionally decorated with authentic touches such as sliding window doors and tatami mat floors, whilst the King Executive suite is elegantly indulgent with impressive views of the city skyline and spacious living areas for entertaining celebratory dinners post race. The Sir Winston hotel is more regal in appearance, located in a large white columned mansion near the Buddhist Koshoji Temple. The hotel has four excellent restaurants serving Japanese fusion cuisine and Italian food in Villa Scala, which is modeled on a historic opera house with a private garden. There’s also a spa on site that’s a welcome retreat after a busy day on trackside.
The real party atmosphere is found in Tokyo, and whilst the drive is a little longer to the circuit each day, the city is captivating and extraordinarily hectic, and worth exploring at length. The Shangri-La Hotel in the city center is an oriental kind of opulent with richly decorated suites and an unparalleled level of service. Dining here is an experience in itself with two restaurants to choose from; Piacere, the Italian restaurant on Level 28 or Nadaman serving first-class Japanese cuisine on Level 29. The Spa is another highlight, featuring a fully equipped gym, indoor swimming pool with beautiful views over the city and a menu of treatments inspired by Asian curative traditions and rituals. The Mandarin Oriental is another of Tokyo’s modern landmarks and is one of the most impressive properties in the group’s portfolio. It’s a sleek skyscraper hotel fusing contemporary and traditional design, with startling views of the city from the glass encased 37th floor lobby that reach as far as Mount Fuji on a clear day. There’s a selection of Michelin starred restaurants in house; French food in Signature, fresh fish in Sushi Sora, Cantonese food in Sense and the Tapas Molecular Bar. Tokyo is known, in fact, for its food and has the world’s highest volume of Michelin stars in the world. Tempura, fresh sashimi and ramen are the favorite dishes and locals will travel far for across town to taste the perfect noodles and broth. For the best tempura, Daikokuya in the Asakusa neighbourhood is the place to go. The specialty is shrimp tempura served simply over rice and when the main part of the restaurant is too crowded, you can venture to the shop’s annex just round the corner. When it comes to nightlife, many of the city’s districts have stylish clubs and bars to spill into after a late night dinner. La Baron de Paris in Aoyama is one of the most fashionable places to dance, owned by famous designer Marc Newson. The music is eclectic and continues late into the night.
Back at the circuit, the ultimate spectating experience is, as always, the F1 Paddock Club located at the upper entrance of pit building. Guests of the club can enjoy walks round the pit lane, an open bar, gourmet lunch and the company of Grand Prix drivers and teams. There’s also a platform with privileged views of the cars as they whip round the figure of eight style circuit. Aside from racing, Suzuka also offers alternative sources of entertainment including the famous Motopia theme park, the Kur Garden hot springs, gyms, golf courses, tennis courts and bowling alleys.
On an extended visit, the stunning city of Kyoto is well worth a visit located about 80 kilometres away from the race track. Famous for its temples, colorful shrines, imperial palaces and gardens, its a magical place to explore and an interesting insight into the more rural and peaceful side of Japan.