Hello, I'm Morita from Nihon Shigoto Hyakka.
I have heard through our interviews and people we have met at our communal space, Little Tokyo, that they do not only read our articles for job hunting purposes, but also to purely enjoy as a good read. Apparently, it is one way to learn about diverse ways of living and working.
We have been considering translating our articles into English so that everyone around the globe would have the opportunity to have a peek at our interviews.
And, Shigoto Hyakka is pleased to announce that we have collaborated with Nomura Real Estate and released an English version of one of our articles, ‘As Locals’.
So here we are, enjoy reading.
“If I’m going to travel, I want to have the best local experiences I can find nowhere else.”
People visiting Japan must feel the same way, and more visitors are interested in venturing into places where they can experience local life in recent years.
How can we best share the beauty of Japan’s varied local scenes with guests from abroad?
In November 2018, NOHGA HOTEL will be opening in Ueno.
Mainly focusing on Taito City, Tokyo, the hotel will serve as a base for sharing Japan’s many charms with the world.
If you’re only talking about “sharing Japan’s charms,” though, many other shops and services already exist.
To differentiate itself from the pack, Nomura Real Estate Development has focused on putting down roots in the neighborhood, and connecting with the locals.
NOHGA HOTEL will shed a spotlight on fascinating neighbors and places in the neighborhood, and share these unique gems with visitors from abroad.
To learn more about this project, we have visited their pre-opening office and first spoke with the central figure, Mr. Yasushi Nakamura.
Having heard you’re from Nomura Real Estate Development, we were expecting to meet a gentleman with a formal attire…
Do you never wear a suit?
“Rarely, even in the company, we’re the only team dressed like this. We feel that if you’re starting something new, you first have to undermine the preconceived images.”
Nomura Real Estate Development is one of the well-known real estate companies in Japan that specializes in apartments. Recently the company is expanding its business in commercial and logistical facilities and continues to ‘build cities’ in various field of development.
So what made Nomura Real Estate Development decide to get into the hotel business?
“We’ve been talking about hotels for a long time now. There were a few factors that prevented us from getting involved, but then we had the opportunity to build an international hotel as part of a combined redevelopment project.”
“That project, though, won’t come to completion until 2025. The NOHGA HOTEL plan was born from our desire to start building the company’s original brand in consideration of our future hotel business.”
When you speak of the hotel business, though, other developers have already been in the market for many years now. One could even say Nomura Real Estate Development is late to the party.
To turn this perceived disadvantage on its head, Yasushi and his team decided to create a unique hotel that has never been seen before and started off by looking into their company’s strengths.
“Nowadays, many developers are doing it, but Nomura Real Estate Development was the first developer to create the neighborhood introduction videos that are played in the model rooms of new apartments. To truly uncover the charms of the neighborhood, we interview over 100 people for every apartment building, and speak with the owners of long established shops and the heads of the neighborhood associations.”
“We go through the same process even for office buildings and commercial complexes, in addition to apartments. That led us to realize that if we want to create a hotel that will attract international visitors who truly want to know Japan, we are best positioned to introduce the local charms of the neighborhood.”
As Yasushi journeyed through hotels around the world, he noticed one thing.
“When you visit abroad and ask people for their recommended hotels, the names of local hotels pop up one after another.”
Local hotels, you say? In Japan, we would typically come up with the world renowned hotels.
“Yes, local hotels. The reason is, in the overseas, local people use hotels as extensions of cafes and the workspace. The service is rather friendly and the staff are approachable, allowing locals to use hotels as part of their everyday life. Hotels have become a community space, so to speak.”
“I thought that was wonderful. People from around the world and local residents gathering together, sharing different stories, and connecting with one another. The NOHGA HOTEL project began with a desire to create such a space.”
This 130-room hotel is situated very close to Ueno Station. Taito City, where Ueno is located, offers many popular tourist attractions including Ueno Zoo, Sensoji Temple, and the National Museum of Western Art. It also has a rich culture dating back over 400 years from the Edo Period and has many unique traditional crafts.
The city is recently gaining popularity as it draws an increasing number of young creators and independent shops, primarily around the Kuramae area.
Yasushi plans to incorporate and utilize products made by these creators into guestroom features, restaurant equipment, and even display and sells them in a gallery at NOHGA HOTEL. He is also considering creating hotel’s original products to further highlight the unique craftsmanship of the neighborhood.
In past year and a half, Yasushi has visited about 400 shops and individuals as he searches for collaborators.
Mr. Sousho Kamikawa is one of those individuals. He is an 11th generation craftsman producing traditional Tokyo silverware, carrying on arts that have been passed down since the end of the Edo Period.
“Mr. Sousho is about 70 years old now and works with his sons and daughter, producing traditional Tokyo Silverware as a family. Mr. Sousho produced an original beer tumbler for our hotel, and it gives your beer an absolutely exquisite taste.”
“You just have to try this.” Yasushi invited us to compare the taste of beer poured into a standard off-the-shelf glass and Mr. Sousho’s tumbler.
“First, take a look at the color.”
Looking at the two tumblers, it seemed that the beer in the silver tumbler had a more vivid, golden color than the beer poured into the glass.
“This golden color is actually the true color of the beer. Silver is much better at preventing light refraction than glass, producing this vivid difference in color.”
Silver is also a great insulator, and the beer that touched our tongue was just as cold as the moment it was poured from the tap.
What most surprised us, though, was the difference in taste. The beer from the silver tumbler, had a gentler, more mellow flavor.
“Isn’t it hard to believe how much a flavor can change? The ion contained in the silverware can change the taste this much. This was an experience I definitely wanted to share with guests from abroad and considering offering drinks in these tumblers in our restaurant.”
Mr. Sousho has really been a great help, hasn’t he?
“To be honest, at first he wouldn’t even talk to us. His son was very kind to us, but Mr. Sousho just stayed in the back continuing with his work.”
I see. How did you build a relationship with Mr. Sousho?
“We just kept visiting. I think it was during our fourth visit or so that Mr. Sousho came to meet us. He was deeply moved when I explained how I’d like to share his silverware with visitors from around the world.”
“In fact, until just a few years ago, the name of the craftsman was almost never mentioned to customers. They simply made whatever the wholesaler asked for. Mr. Sousho and his colleagues made their products themselves, but they didn’t quite know how to share and spread the word themselves.”
Yasushi explained that there were many other people searching for a partner like NOHGA HOTEL.
Yasushi and his team then began thinking of contents that could best share the unique charm of the neighborhood together with the local residents.
For example, chic black & transparent works of Edo Kiriko cut glass, developed to match the modern lifestyle, from KIMOTO GLASS TOKYO will be used in their restaurant.
As some of you may be familiar from our other articles, a lifestyle goods designer, SyuRo, will create original amenity boxes and hangers for NOHGA HOTEL’s guest rooms.
The hotel will also source its coffee beans from Kabuki, the coffee and chocolate shop, and even learned how to pour their coffee recently from its owner.
Yasushi tells us his team will use variety of ingredients for the restaurant from long-established, beloved local shops, such as naturally fermented miso from Gunji Miso and tsukudani soy preserved condiments from Funato Shoten.
“We’d also like to host events and workshops regularly. One idea is with Kyo-gen, a kamon family crest craftsman.”
“Kyo-gen offered to arrange a ‘family crest stencil’ workshop that only requires paper and scissors and would love to hold such a workshop at our hotel.”
Yasushi does not want to focus solely on collecting things, though, and is searching for ways to better share the charms of the area by building connections with the local residents.
We feel NOHGA HOTEL will become a location that creates new, unique discoveries and experiences for the people around the world.
“What’s most important to us is to connect with the local people. That’s something you don’t need experience in hotels to accomplish.”
“No matter what their previous career may have been, we’re looking for people who are passionate about something and can delve deeply into it. We want to create an environment where these individuals can flourish and celebrate together.”
We can see the hotel will become even more interesting if each team members build relationships with the community and come up with ideas for new workshops and events.
“It would be great if we could accomplish that. We want to create a new type of hotel, so I’d like everyone to strive towards accomplishing what they really love and work together as a team.”
We next spoke with Ms. Yuko Kanaori, General Manager of NOHGA HOTEL UENO.
She is a very friendly and openhearted individual, nearly the exact opposite of our image of a traditional general manager.
“People tell me that all the time. Even when I’m conducting an interview, if I don’t tell the candidate I’m the general manager, they sometimes keep looking around wondering who I am.”
Yuko has previous experiences as a spa therapist at another hotel, and went on to manage the spa as a director.
Regardless of no experience managing a hotel itself, that has set her apart among the crowd and was appointed the general manager of NOHGA HOTEL UENO.
The details of service delivery are currently under development, and concrete details are yet to be decided. Yuko tells us she would like to create the hotel operation together with the pre-opening team members who will join.
“What can we do to make our guests feel satisfied with their experience at NOHGA HOTEL? There’s lots of ideas I would like to try, but I feel like it’s a big challenge to bring all those ideas to reality.”
What sort of challenges?
“One example is our hotel amenities. We would like to source them locally as much as possible, but that makes the items much more expensive than mass-produced products. Even if one item is just a few yen difference with another item, that can add up to costs of several million yen over a year.”
“But on the other hand, if we choose ordinary products in order to reduce costs, the unique value of our hotel might decrease. Do we place priority on the hotel concept or the practical operational aspects? There is always that dilemma in everything we choose, and I think candidates joining us will also face the same challenge.”
A challenging period like this might be necessary, though, to become an establishment that truly has roots in the neighborhood and is beloved by both locals and visitors.
Even after the opening of the hotel, adjustments and updates might continuously be required.
Although there are many challenges ahead, we felt that the team would enjoy achieving their goals together.
NOHGA HOTEL has plans to expand in regions throughout Japan. Yasushi is also considering launching another hotel under a new brand in addition to NOHGA HOTEL.
We feel that if Yasushi and his team continuously gain experiences, there would be more possibilities in their range of activities.
Get started by exploring the neighborhood at NOHGA HOTEL UENO.
（2/26/2018 interviewed Akimitsu Morita）