food / travel

The Landmark Tokyo Station Hotel Marks Its Centennial

One of Tokyo's cultural treasures celebrates 100 years of hosting renowned writers and other celebrity guests.

Happy 100th!
Happy 100th!

TOKYO â€" In the 100 years since it first opened, The Tokyo Station Hotel has been the site of memorable moments for countless guests and has watched over the capital city through changing times. Located inside Tokyo Station's Marunouchi Building, which is designated as a significant cultural landmark, it has attracted renowned writers among many other guests.

As the centennial is marked this month, staff members have renewed their determination to make The Tokyo Station Hotel a place that will be remembered for the next 100 years as well.

Akiyuki Takaishi, 34, works in the hotel lobby, welcoming guests. He recalled a conversation with an elderly woman who came to the hotel three years ago.

"I know there was a (station) waiting room around here about 50 years ago. I want to see it again so badly," she begged Takaishi.

Photo: Wei-Te Wong

According to the woman, her father departed for the front from Tokyo Station during World War II. They spent time together in the waiting room for third-class train passengers before he left.

Helped by colleagues, Takaishi searched among old documents to track down the location of the waiting room. He discovered it was in the current hotel lounge.

"That window frame looks familiar to me," the woman said, looking deeply moved. Takaishi said he felt the weight of the hotel's history in that moment.

The European-style hotel opened in November 1915, a year after the opening of Tokyo Station. Parts of the current hotel were previously used as a waiting room for train passengers and an office for station employees.

The number of rooms has increased to 150 from 56 at the initial opening.

Many guests would stay at the hotel with special thoughts from their life events.

Staff member Saori Shinoda, 24, vividly remembers a married couple in their 50s who stayed in the hotel in December. When Shinoda asked whether they were on holiday, the couple said they had come to celebrate the husband's recovery from cancer.

They said they had been at the hotel before his treatment began and vowed in the lounge to fight the illness.

Later that day, which was also the husband's birthday, Shinoda invited the couple to the lounge, where she prepared a small gift for him â€" a glass of beer, which he had been unable to taste during his battle with cancer.

The couple left a letter in their room the following day saying, "We'll never forget your hospitality." Other guests have been seen silently crying over their untold history related to the station building.

"We'd like to carve each guest's thoughts in the history of the station building," Shinoda said.

Many famous writers have also stayed in the hotel. One was Seicho Matsumoto, who was a frequent guest around 1956.

From what was then room 209, Matsumoto saw every platform in Tokyo Station become empty of trains for a few minutes, which inspired a trick in one of his best-known novels, Ten to Sen ("Points and Lines").

Matsumoto reportedly said, "This hotel has no elevator, so it's easier to stay in a room that I can reach quickly by the stairs."

Yasunari Kawabata also stayed in the hotel for a month in 1956 to write Onna de Arukoto ("Being a Woman"), a serial novel for a newspaper. In the story, he wrote about a crowd of people coming and going through a ticket gate, a view he could see in front of the hotel from his window.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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