The Imperial Hotel: Celebrating 127 Years of History
Since its founding in 1890, The Imperial Hotel has been known for its luxurious accommodations and appeal to international guests (STORY).
On June 8, 2017, a dedicated exhibition space entitled Imperial Times- Once and Future Legacies - featuring photographs, prints and historical items from the three generations of buildings across its 127-year history was officially opened in the Main Lobby of The Imperial Hotel, Tokyo.
Among some of the most striking displays are those featuring relics from the second-generation of the hotel, The Wright Imperial (1923-1968). Designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, The Wright Imperial was affectionately known as the “Jewel of the Orient”. The June 8 opening of the exhibition coincided with the 150th Anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth (INFORMATION).
Showcased in the exhibition are prints of Wright’s designs for The Imperial as well as original terracotta bricks from the hotel alongside impressive reconstructions of the gorgeous “Pillars of Light”, which were central features of the lobby. Wright’s designs for The Imperial were not limited only to the construction of the hotel building itself; also on display are the coffee pots, cups and saucers, and even matchbox covers designed for the hotel by Wright (INFORMATION).
An Imperial Connection
It is known that Wright had been fascinated by Japanese architecture since his visit to the Japanese pavilion at the 1893 World Expo in Chicago, and it is thought that the plans for The Wright Imperial itself were influenced by the Hoo-den Hall in the Japan Pavilion. Other features of the hotel are also thought to have been influenced by Wright’s interest in Japan, including the “Pillars of Light”, which resemble “andon” or Japanese paper lanterns. Wright is also known to have been an avid collector of ukiyo-e prints, and it was this love of ukiyo-e which serendipitously led to his being asked to design the new building. Hayashi Aisaku, the General Manager at the time, had previously worked for an antique dealer in New York and met Wright when he visited to acquire prints (LINK).
The Staff: the Heart of The Imperial
While the luxurious accommodations at The Imperial represent the body of the hotel, at its heart are the staff who follow a long tradition of caring for guests by providing omotenashi, -Japanese hospitality-. And among the 2,000 staff currently caring for guests are two who began their long careers serving guests in the Wright Imperial.
Koike Yukiko began working at the Wright Imperial in 1961. After having seen images of the hotel on television when she was still an elementary school student, she dreamed of one day working there. Years later, that dream came true when she was hired by the Imperial at the age of 18 upon graduating from high school.
Beginning in the housekeeping department, Koike trained under the Imperial’s legendary guest attendant Takeya Toshiko, who was with the hotel for nearly 60 years from 1933-1991. Takeya was responsible for training entire generations of guest attendants and her teachings can still be felt in the service today. To this day, Koike begins preparations for serving guests in front of a mirror reciting one of the lessons Takeya had instilled in her:
During her 55 years, Koike has cared for some 70,000 guests, becoming a legend in her own right. In her 2009 book, “The Imperial Hotel’s Heart of Hospitality: 50 Years Serving Guests”, Koike’s tone is simultaneously authoritative and knowledgeable, warm and loving. Describing the ethos behind the Imperial Hotel’s world class service in her book, Koike uses a mathematical expression often used by the former president:
Nothing short of perfection will suffice.
Ishihara Takashi first joined the Imperial 52 years ago at the age of 18, working in areas as varied as maintenance and at The Imperial’s Garden Bar. Viewing the nostalgic photographs on display in the lobby exhibition brings back a multitude of memories for Ishihara, such as summer events held on the rooftop of the hotel.
In his current role as a Duty Manager, Ishihara uses his some 50 years of experience to serve guests and mentor young employees. Ishihara believes that “no” should never be the reply to a request; rather, an alternative should always be offered to meet the needs of guests.
To be continued in Part 2.