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Saturday, Feb. 10, 2007

Time custom-designed for that unique experience

It takes Charlie Spreckley no time at all to leave his apartment in Ebisu and meet at the station. He is tall, smiling, and very droll. Nicole Fall, his business partner, falls in not far behind, looking brisk and wearing wrist weights. "I've no time to go the gym these days. These help keep my upper arms in trim."

News photo
BUSINESS PARTNERS Charlie Spreckley and Nicole Fall operate Bespoke Tokyo, offering visitors, however short or long their time in Japan, unique experiences, tailor-made to meet their needs and interests.

Fall is editor of the LUXE guide to Tokyo. Spreckley was, until two weeks ago, editor in chief of the city's major listings magazine, Metropolis. "We are both now full-time freelance journalists with our own company, Bespoke Tokyo," he explains.

Bespoke Tokyo offers visitors, however short or long their time in Japan, a unique experience, tailor-made to needs and interests. The company does everything: makes arrangements, takes you around, points out new trends in swimwear, knows the best place for traditional dyed fabrics or unique bonsai, and of course, great restaurants and the best art.

"Many people may not know the word 'bespoke' but in the U.K. where we both come from, it refers to the custom-made clothing -- shirts, suits, shoes, hats -- you can order in London's Saville Row, Spreckley adds.

"It means individually tailored to fit exact measurements." He is from Haslemere in Surrey, with a degree in politics. But what he really wanted to be was an architect. "I was always a bit lost!"

Student travels took him to Hong Kong, China and finally Japan, to which he returned to after graduating. He worked as a journalist for Tokyo Classified (as Metropolis was called back then), NHK, Kyodo News, and in TV at Bloomberg.

"Burned out, I took a 50-percent cut in pay and went back to Crisscross (KK)." From Chiswick in West London, Fall has a degree in journalism. After an abortive year working in the City as a broker ("I hated it!") she came to Japan nine years ago, also via Hong Kong and China.

"It's an amazing thing, that Charlie and I met so recently, because our paths have been crossing for years." Spreckley agrees. "We knew the same people, went to the same places, parties, and yet never came face to face."

Fall has created a formidable niche for herself on the Tokyo scene, as a trendspotter who can write. Quite how she fits in being everywhere and knowing everyone before the mainstream catches on, is one of life's mysteries.

Especially when you consider she has a family (husband met here) and two small children (Eden 5, Raffy 3). "It became natural for people to ring me up when passing through Tokyo to ask where they should go and what to see.

"Then I realized that other people were charging for such information. When I met Spreckley, I told him, and we began thinking about how to pool our resources."

Spreckley, too, had been at the receiving end of appeals for guidance -- from TV companies and other personal and business contacts. It was natural to want to help, but meeting Fall helped him to refocus. Deciding it was time to move into something bigger and more ambitious, they put up their Web site for Bespoke Tokyo September last.

Already they are busier than ever, continuing with writing assignments but also developing their company. Even with one part-time assistant, and interviewing another, the last thing they need right now is an office.

As Fall explains: "We're concentrating on the hunt for new places -- not just restaurants and clubs and shops, but interesting off-the-wall experiences."

Only recently, the son of a famous New York actor and his wife came to town with days to spare. Being their first time in Asia, Bespoke Tokyo gave them a ball.

Fall: "The first night we took them out for dinner and helped them schedule their stay. They wanted to go to kabuki, which they loved.

"We also took them to have their ears cleaned -- a 100-percent Japanese experience and the one they agreed was the highlight of their trip."

Spending their time writing about this country enables Fall and Spreckley to have not only an extensive knowledge of its history but also (for example) the latest designer intelligence.

Spreckley: "Our unique understanding and deeper perspective helps us guide companies to what it is they need to see and in order to help them draw conclusions for trends.

"Bespoke Tokyo is not just about tourism, but helping businesspeople identify and break into new markets."

Right now they are planning a three-day workshop in Tokyo for corporate delegates flying in from all over the world. The idea is to spice up the business every few hours or so with Japanese culture ancient and modern, so that while everyone understands they are there to work, they will also know they are in Japan. Spreckley: "Too often people fly in and simply shuttle between hotels and offices. They leave having seen nothing and knowing nothing about this amazing country. We aim to change that."

Fall: "Spreckley had good contacts in Kyoto. I have good contacts in Shizuoka. We both have a passion for Tokyo, and we want to make visitors love it too.

"We're targeting personalities, executives and relocating families. So far, no one has flinched at our fees."

Spreckley says Fall is "super-well connected." She has 20 ideas a day, 10 of which are brilliant; she also sends 40 e-mails a day, half of which he deletes. "I can't believe there's only one of her. My job is to rein her in."

Fall describes her partner as thorough. "I start a job, he finishes it. Charlie is practical and exacting; there are no half measures. He's also very good with people, with endless patience."

Their happiest day of late was when it became possible to Google Bespoke Tokyo. That means reaching the 8 million tourists who come to the capital every year.

One high spot for Fall last year was being invited to join an advisory panel to the Tokyo Metropolitan Tourist Bureau.

As the only journalist, she felt very privileged. She sees the opportunity to blow fresh air into an atmosphere ruled by officials who still market Japan in terms of Mt. Fuji and kimono. She would like to see manga and otaku on the covers of travel guides. "Contemporary Japan is vibrant and exciting. It's what many people -- young and older -- come to experience these days."

On Feb. 11, Spreckley will be promoting Bespoke Tokyo from 4-7 p.m. at the Asian Collection Gallery in Kamimeguro.

"In celebration of Valentine's Day, I'll be introducing secret places for romance and romantics in the city. We'll be serving champagne, and every picture marked with a red heart gets 20 percent off."

Bespoke Tokyo: www.bespoketokyo.jp Asian Collection Gallery: 2-7-4-306 Kamimeguro www.theasiancollection.com

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