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Salvaged Getaway to Japan

March 21, 2011
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I’ve always been drawn to Europe. I attribute this to my firm belief that if I had any past lives, then in at least one I was a European princess. Because I’ve always been so enamored with European culture and history, I’ve really neglected to discover that of other ancient civilizations.

When I think of the destruction to the areas of Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami, in addition to the enormous tragedy of the lives lost, I began to wonder about the architectural wonders that were also potentially destroyed. For our Salvaged Getaway today, I thought we’d take a look at two of the oldest hotels in not only Japan, but in the world.

The land that the Houshi Ryokan Hotel sits on was first reached by a priest named Taicho. The legend is that while asleep a diety came before him and instructed Taicho to go to the village below and ask the people to help him unearth a hot spring which would have great healing powers. So he did and when the spring was uncovered, the sick were told to immerse themselves and their health was restored. Afterward, Taicho asked his disciple to build and run a spa on the site.

The proprietor of the spa is called the Zengoro Houshi, and now the spa is run by the 46th Zengoro. Which means that 46 generations of the same family have operated this hotel and spa – what an amazing feat! On their website the hotel notes note that they are resolved to preserve the establishment built 1,300 years before.

There were not a ton of  pictures of Hotel Ryokan, but there is a good amount of information about the World’s Oldest (continually operating) Hotel, as christened by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1994. It’s located on the Sea of Japan, almost directly opposite Tokyo on the coast of the island. According to one source, the food and rooms are divine and guests are welcomed in the traditional way with tea ceremony. Hmm… it all sounds so relaxing. I’ve never been to a hot spring – have you?

The Fujiya Hotel has only been around since 1878 and is considered Japan’s first western style hotel. It has 300 rooms occupying the 5 buildings on the property and has apparently been a draw to dignitaries and celebrities throughout it’s history. John Lennon, Albert Einstein and General Dwight Eisenhower all stayed there at some point.

I love this: all the rooms get hot springs water delivered directly to their bathtub. I wonder what it’s like to bathe in hot springs water? A commenter in an article I read noted that the hotel hasn’t changed much over the years which makes it feel like a time warp to visit.

Interestingly, the hotel was under US Army control after World War II when it served as a “Rest and Relaxation facility” for occupation forces. The photo above is of the tea porch from the 50’s. I think the photo below is of the same space now.

It did not seem as if either of these hotels would have experienced any damage from the earthquake and tsunami, both are located in the middle of the island, closer to Tokyo.

Another Japan hotel with an interesting story is the second Imperial Hotel, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in Tokyo from 1915 to 1923. Wright went to great lengths to design a new hotel (the original wood structure burned in a fire) which could withstand an earthquake, known to be common to the region. He made the foundation shallow because he thought that the building would float in mud if disturbed. In 1923, a 8.3 scale earthquake shook Tokyo and much of the city was destroyed. Wright waited with baited breath to learn the fate of the Imperial Hotel. He received a telegram which he was pleased to pass along to journalists “Hotel stands undamaged as monument to your genius. Congratulations.” However, though the hotel withstood the earthquake, the foundation suffered irreparable damage and eventually sunk into the mud to such an extent that had to be demolished. The photo below is the facade and gardens which were recreated at a museum.

I definitely want to spend more time discovering the beauty of Japanese architecture and design, though I will do so with a heavy heart knowing the inconcievable amount of pain this country is experiencing.

A group of bloggers organized For Japan With Love to raise money for ShelterBox which provides emergency shelter and life saving supplies for those affected by disasters. They were hoping to raise enough money to send 5 boxes of supplies (at $1000/box) and instead have raised over $52,600. Isn’t that an exciting number?! I like knowing specifically what my donation is going towards, in this case each box of supplies includes blankets, water storage and purification equipment, cooking utensils, a stove, a basic tool kit, a children’s activity pack, and other vital items. You can donate HERE.


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