“In 1887, three Japanese noblemen, Marquis Inouye, Viscount Shibusawa and Baron Okura, all close to the Imperial Family decided that Japan’s capital city should have a hotel suitable for Westerners, for until that time there had been nothing but unheated Japanese inns, where every guest sat on the floor, slept on the floor and invariably had his meals brought by a maid-servant to his low table on the floor. No such thing as running water had been thought of, nor had a hotel dining room or restaurant been imaginable, but this was a period of the Meiji Restoration when Japan’s more progressive leaders were becoming fascinated by Western ways.
“A long-term lease of land was secured in the heart of the city and the three pioneers raised the money for a three-story wooden hotel, the Imperial Household being the chief shareholder and itself investing heavily. The first Imperial was completed in 1890 and guests averaged hardly more than ten a day. In 1910, with the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway, venturesome round-the-world travelers were beginning to pour into Japan and that year saw the advent of the first big planned tour, no less than 500 persons descending upon the hotel at one time.”
– All the Best in Japan, Sydney Clark, 1958
“In the decoration of its rooms it bears comparison with the better class of European hotel. Now at last Tokyo is prepared to provide the hostelry about which visiting gentlemen will find nothing amiss.”
– Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun, November 9, 1890
“It is interesting to hear the eulogies now passed by tourists on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. There is unanimous testimony that no better hotel is to be found eastward of Suez, for not only have the food and attendance as well as the warming of the building improved immensely but also there is a general atmosphere of competent organization, and the servants have been drilled to discharge all the duties of attention which make just the difference between and mediocrity. These marked changes are of course attributable to the present foreign management which seems to have effected a thorough metamorphosis.”
– The Japan Mail, April 7, 1903
This earliest of Imperial Hotels’ architecture was purposely reminiscent of the nearby Rokumeikan – itself constructed for the aristocratic and nouveau riche elite of the capital city – and with good reason. The 1890 hotel was designed by a Japanese student, Watanabe Yuzuru, of the Rokumeikan’s architect, Englishman Josiah Conder. Several of Japan’s first modern-age entrepreneurs (including Okura Kihachiro), in partnership with the Imperial Household Ministry, agreed to build an elegant and well-appointed hotel that would cater to foreign dignitaries, locally-based expatriates and Japan’s new aristocrats and industrial magnets.