I can trace the origins of TOKU to the early 1970’s when as a child my parents would assign me the task of exploring our destination after checking into our hotel. I would set out on foot and evaluate the hotel from the inside out and then proceed to put the hotel in the context of the neighborhood and the great landmarks of the city we were visiting. I would report back to the family with the lay of the land and we would set out on what have become seminal journeys in my lifelong career as a travel professional.
My first journey to Japan was during the 1970s and during this time I clearly established Tokyo as a second home through the daily walks through the back streets of the city and exploring all aspects of transportation, accommodation and most importantly food. Cuisine has been an integral part of learning about other cultures as it is one of the great common denominators of mankind. These skills and techniques were further enhanced when as class president at a new high school in Southern California, I was determined to establish a class trip as a new tradition. It was my responsibility to convince the new administration at my school that the traditions needed to start from the students up and not from the administration down. This would require careful research into the logistics of the class trip including transportation, accommodations, food and beverage, sightseeing, insurance, and overall trip pricing. I am pleased to say that as class president the trip was realized and became yet another stepping stone along the path of TOKU. In the late 1980s as a Coordinator for International Relations for the City of Yokohama on the JET Program, I was actively involved in the care and well being of guests from around the world. It was often my responsibility to make sure that all logistical aspects of their stay were in order including their arrival and departure, accommodations, food requirements and daily touring.
It was in 1989 that I determined that the hospitality industry is where I belonged as it had become my home away from home since early childhood. In 1993 I established GHA Travel in San Francisco which was at the forefront of specialized travel to Japan for major board of directors meetings, museum travel programs, incentive tours, and a wide variety of educational and affinity group journeys.
TOKU has been more than thirty years in the making and it is exciting to finally see the birth, growth and development of such a revolutionary ranking and evaluation system for the hospitality industry in Japan. The first signs of an emerging TOKU as we see it today appeared over the past seven years. As a Japan specialist and expert on the hospitality industry, I have served as a consultant to clients around the globe who require customized information on hotels, restaurants and destinations in Japan. I have been asked to create customize TOP 10 lists of hotels and restaurants throughout the country. During this process I asked myself continually how I could make this information more readily available to a larger audience and the early signs of TOKU started to become more visible as I continued to articulate this special expertise to more and more clients.
TOKU is not a conventional enterprise. The name TOKU itself in the Japanese language conveys the meaning “unique“ and “special”. It also carries a connotation of “receiving value” which is at the core of our mission here at TOKU for we are in hot pursuit of developing a new brand and becoming known for the value we deliver. Additionally, TOKU means “to answer” or “to solve” which is the goal of every search on the internet. Bottom line: TOKU is about getting the information you need to make smart travel decisions.
The internet and all of its technological manifestations and applications have created a wealth of information at our fingertips. However, even with all of our sophisticated search engines, layers of filters, and preferences we are still left with too much information. We start off with an honest intention of looking for a hotel for an upcoming trip to Japan, but we find ourselves an hour later printing a recipe for banana pancakes. This has happened to all of us on numerous occasions where we end up in a completely different place and it will most likely happen again and again. Our primary goal here at TOKU is to get you the information you need while at the same time having fun and learning about Japan. By the way the banana pancakes were delicious!
An internet search resulting in a list of over a million entries is worthless. For that matter even a list of 100 is excessive. On top of all of this, JAPAN as a destination is often regarded as a mystical and magical destination that is too difficult for non Japanese visitors to understand. Well that is simply just not true and Japan is so much more than Geishas and Fujiyama. It is time to de-bunk the myths and explore this great country.
TOKU is NOT exhaustive listings of hotels and restaurants in Japan. Anyone can get online and access lists from a variety of sites. While that might have been the focus of many travel-related companies in the past, my goal here is to harness over 30 years of experience in Japan and share with my members a special selection of hotels and restaurants that are worthy of the TOKU label.
The science that drives TOKU is TOKULOGIC™. It is a unique blend of ratings, rankings, evaluations, experience, testing, more testing, and yes even more testing. It is collaborative, objective, and most importantly brutally honest. Therefore you will find a blend of hotel establishments from 1-star to 5-stars and restaurants that carry the Michelin designation to others that serve just one type of noodle from a six seat counter – all extraordinary in their own right.
For those that have traveled with me before, you will immediately understand what I am referring to when I say “worthy of the TOKU designation” as many of the establishments noted in TOKU have been at the core of my travel programs over the past 20 years and to critical acclaim.
You will also find that I treasure the emerging stars in the hospitality industry. The great celebrity chefs need no publicity, but the creative young artists in the kitchen or even front desk personnel of a small hotel need to be recognized for their passion, creativity and desire to challenge the existing ways of satisfying the traveler of today. This drives me and my TOKULOGIC™ wild to no end. This is passion in its purest form and addictive. It is better than an E-ticket ride at Disneyland and best of all tickets are not necessary and YES you can go again when the ride is over! Let's have fun.
Vintage Disneyland 1960's E-Ticket