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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tokyo Station Hotel - A Brief History

The New York Times recently published an article on the revamped Tokyo Station Hotel, to which I said… what the heck?

That's the problem with not living in Tokyo. It's also the problem with living on Tokyo… it's a big city and a lot of stuff happens.

Back on October 3, 2012, Tokyo Station Hotel was re-opened. So what, right?

Let's go for a spin in the Time Tunnel...

First off... one can not examine the Tokyo Station Hotel, without also discussing the Tokyo Central Station, as the two are essentially part and parcel the same building, with the hotel situated atop the train station.

Now… although this article will show off some photos of the completed restoration, let's now look at the history of the Hotel… which I freely admit to have borrowed from Stephen Sundberg who has compiled the most wonderful bits of historical data on Tokyo I've yet seen. And he does it in a manner that is easy to read. Please visit his website:

Tokyo Central Station - the hub, starting and end point for rail transportation in Tokyo - was opened on December 20, 1914, with four platforms for trains—two for steam, and two for electric.

With such a spectacular train station acting as a terminus, a resting stop for travelers also seemed to be needed—but not for the common folks.

According to Sundberg, before construction on the train station began in 1912, the National Railways contracted Japanese architect Tatsuno Kingo (surname first) to design a train station that looked like Momoyama castle (in Kyoto) merely because it would be built to face Japan's Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Back when Japanese royalty still had its god-like status, the architect was required to show his design to Emperor Meiji.

Now you might think it would simply be a rubber-stamped approval—a simple formality—but Emperor Meiji was all about taking Japan out of the so-called Dark Ages, and wanted a more European look and feel to the design.

Emperor Meiji says: "Stations and like things are best rendered in a foreign style."

And so… Tatsuno offered up a Dutch-treat to Tokyo-ites, basing the design of the train station of Amsterdam's central station.... with this new station to boast a hotel that would have 56 rooms and be as state-of-the-art as 1915 would allow it to be.

Tokyo Central Station was completed in 1914, a three-story complex comprised of 8.9 million red bricks, but note that the actual hotel did not open until 1915.

Now… here's where things get 'foggy'. Sandberg says that the design for the hotel included a total of 90 rooms… but the history segment on the official Tokyo Station Hotel website says only 56 rooms were constructed.

While both facts could be correct (90 designed and 56 built), I, in my quick search, did not come across any reason for why the design was altered to subtract 34 rooms from Tatsuno's design.

On November 3, 1921, Japan's 19th Prime Minister Takashi Hara (surname first) was stabbed by Nakaoka Kon'ichi (surname firs), a fanatical right-wing political activist who happened to work as a railway switchman. Takashi died from the attack.

While I couldn't find exact details, there is evidence to suggest that although the Tokyo Station Hotel was damaged during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, it was still solid enough to act as a shelter for the thousands of people displaced by the quake and subsequent fire that ripped through the capital city.

2013: I would feel better if we could move the beds closer - makes jumping easier.
In 1933, Tokyo Station Hotel fell under Ministry of Railways management and was renamed Tokyo Railway Hotel, but I'm going to use the old name.

However… WWII would not be as kind. The Tokyo Central Station (and Hotel) had the crap bombed out of it after B-29 aircraft hit it and the surrounding areas on May 25, 1945. The bombs destroyed the station's rooftop domes… which while the station was fixed, the domes were replaced by the common A-frame look.

With the station and hotel being hit badly, the place was rebuilt… with the entire third floor removed.
As well, because one can assume money was tight after the war, what with Japan occupied by Allied forces, the reconstruction of the place was not as opulent as before.

2013: Now THAT'S a lobby! Or is it a robby? Whatever - it's awesome!
Along with the place no longer having a third floor, the station's original ornate cupolas (small-dome-like structures on the roof) were replaced with cupola's that were octagonal in shape and modeled after the Roman Pantheon.

While the hotel's reconstruction began in 1947 and was not completed until 1951, it regained its status as one of Tokyo's jewels during the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, when visitors to the Games thought it splendid.

2013: The hotel dining room.
But… perhaps a sign of the times, the hotel soon began to lose its luster… perhaps because more and more people had cars, or chose to travel in and out of the city by its expanding network of trains and subways… but the hotel was no longer in demand.

In fact, the Tokyo Station Hotel became more of a place to grab a coffee rather than a place to be seen.

Even still, the whole building—then known as The Tokyo Station Marunouchi Building—was designated as an Important Cultural Property.

Now… this confuses me… the building was designated as an important cultural place… but which culture? It was built and rebuilt and redesigned often enough to confuse even me.

And still… while the train station remained open, the Tokyo Station Hotel was officially closed in 2006 so that renovations could be affected.
2013: The spa. It makes me want to get naked right now.

And not just any renovation… one whereby the hotel was rebuilt to now include the long-lost third floor… and the revisited ornate cupolas… and… thanks to the ¥50-billion (~US/Cdn $625-million) project… wait… how much??!!… anyhow… they still managed to revamp the hotel to have modern amenities… including the fact the hotel now has 150 rooms.

So… when a building is called an Important Cultural Property… you can still change the hell out of it. I don't get that.

But I'm not complaining… not too much. The cost to refurbish the station (and thus the hotel) includes reinforcing the 1,000-foot long building against earthquakes.

At this time… please check out the hotel review in the New York Times, presented on July 9, 2013 and written by Barbara Ireland: HERE.

Andrew Joseph


  1. Wanna stay here - someday!

    1. It doesn't seem that expensive, either. At least when you consider it in Japanese denominations as opposed to US/Canada. Never convert if you want to stay sane!