As a documentary filmmaker traveling on the international film festival circuit, I have stayed in countless hotels around the world. But this time is different: I have been invited to document the hotel in which I am staying. With its 126 years of history caring for foreign guests, including diplomats, dignitaries and a famous stay by Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio on their honeymoon, the Imperial Hotel is filled with stories that I am excited to discover and record. This journal entry is part one.
Stepping off the Imperial Hotel elevator onto one of the Imperial Floors is to visit the Japan that many tourists long to see but so few actually do. After being formally greeted by name by a Guest Attendant in a kimono, I was guided to my room and provided with a hot towel and cup of green tea. The stresses of rushing through busy streets, crowded trains, and work piling up immediately began to melt away…
Still kneeling before me after serving the tea, Ms. Sato introduced herself as the Head Guest Attendant. Listening to her soft and welcoming her voice as she explained the services on the Imperial Floors, I looked around the room and noticed that everything before me was a picture: a delicate fresh flower reflected in a mirror, colorful origami cranes on a table, Ms. Sato’s zori sandals against the carpet.
Of all that has been carefully crafted and selected for the Imperial Floors, from the Frank Lloyd Wright - inspired touches to the special Sleep Works bedding, perhaps the most distinctive feature is the presence of the Guest Attendants in kimonos. Stationed at reception desks in the lobbies of the Imperial Floors, the attendants assist guests with their needs, and their kimono-shaped silhouettes adorning the halls of the Imperial Floors serve as a constant reminder that one is in Japan, a country known around the world for its hospitality.
Rooms are spacious with plenty of room for large suitcases and lots of shopping, and the separate lavatory and bathing spaces allow for smoother morning routines for couples. Room furnishings feature the technology one expects from Japan seamlessly blended with tradition. A separate rain shower head allows for washing before taking a bath, a custom in Japan, while the automatic bath plays music to signal when it is full within a few minutes. An analog Seiko clock proudly sits next to a panel that allows control of the lighting, air-conditioning, audio and opening/ closing of the curtains all from the comfort of the bed. This harmony of old and new serves as a perfect metaphor for the Imperial Hotel itself: the most modern of comforts steeped in rich history.
On a tour of rooms located on the Imperial Floors, which occupy the 14th-16th floors of the main hotel, an Imperial Floor Suite on the East-side of the hotel revealed stunning views of Hibiya Park and the Imperial Palace itself.
During my stay, the hotel also arranged for me to film Ms. Hosokawa, one of a team of Inspectors whose sole job it is to inspect rooms after they have been prepared by housekeeping staff and before guests arrive.
Fascinated, I watched as Ms. Hosokawa removed her shoes upon entering a guest room and demonstrated how more than 190 features of a room ― its smell, temperature, furnishings ― are all meticulously inspected to ensure it is worthy of bearing the name of the Imperial Hotel.
Ms. Sato, who has worked for the Hotel for more than 30 years and is the Head Guest Attendant on the Imperial Floors, also granted me an interview. As she folded origami to place in the rooms, she shared with me that her hope is to create an especially comfortable and relaxing environment.
In the morning as I headed back through the Imperial Floor lobby on my way to check out, I was again greeted by name by a Guest Attendant. Thanking me for my stay, she walked me to the elevator where she held the door for me as she bowed and uttered warmly “please come again”.
The luxurious rooms at the Imperial Hotel offer all of the modern comforts that travelers demand steeped in the rich history of Japan that visitors expect. Meanwhile, impeccable service is provided with attention paid to the tiniest of details by the staff, who represent the heart of the Imperial, and who warmly care for guests in the tradition of hospitality for which Japan is famous. I look forward to discovering more stories of the Imperial on my next visit...
Documentary filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash was born in the United States and has lived in Japan for 13 years. Part two of this series will be published in January.