September 29, 2023

The living legacy of Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel


Yukiko Koike (right), Manager of the Housekeeping Office, is the only current hotelier with firsthand experience working in the Wright Building. Yukiko Sato is the Manager of Concierge and Guest Attendant. They stand here in the Frank Lloyd Wright® Suite at the Imperial Hotel Tokyo.


Born in 1967, she joined the Imperial Hotel in 1985. Over the years, She has worked in various positions, including as a guest attendant, and currently works as a Concierge and Guest Attendant Manager. This year marks her 38th year of dedicated service to the Imperial Hotel.


Born in 1942, she joined the Imperial Hotel in 1961. Initially serving as a guest attendant, she rose to become the Manager of the main building in 1989. Even after her official retirement in 2002, she continued to assist special guests and patrons as a special employee and Manager of the Housekeeping Office. Koike’s dedication to hospitality is a testament to the Imperial Hotel’s legacy, and her influence will persist in the years ahead.

The Imperial Hotel, located near the Imperial Palace in the Hibiya area of Tokyo, was established in 1890 as a guest house for VIPs from abroad. With each passing year, it has refined its deep-rooted tradition of hospitality, winning the hearts of countless individuals worldwide.

Completed in the early fall of 1923, the hotel’s former main building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a master of modernist architecture who had a deep appreciation for Japan, and commonly was called the Wright Building. Its unique architectural techniques and meticulous design set it apart from other buildings. The Wright Building thrived as a hub for global social and cultural exchange, earning its reputation as the “Jewel of the Orient.”

The opening of the Wright Building inaugurated a new hotel culture of events such as hotel weddings and dinner shows in Japan. However, in 1967, just 44 years after its unveiling, the building was regrettably demolished due to aging.

Yukiko Koike, the only current hotelier with firsthand experience of working in the splendor of the Wright Building, will step down from her role as Manager of the Housekeeping Office this fall.

Koike is more than just a veteran hotelier; she embodies the very spirit of the Imperial Hotel. For many guests, her welcoming smile became synonymous with the hotel’s reputation for unparalleled service. As she steps away from her role, she leaves behind a legacy of excellence, warmth and memories that will continue to echo in the hotel’s storied halls.

Sept. 1 marked a century since the inception of the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel, commonly known as the Wright Building. The hotel and the Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Trust planted cherry trees in the courtyard of the Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago — a masterpiece designed by Wright that UNESCO recognized as a World Heritage Site — to celebrate international friendship, architectural reverence and the value of cultural heritage.

For many who stayed at the Imperial, there is a sentiment that Koike passionately hopes for. “Whenever our guests think back to their stay, I want it to be with fond memories. For those from abroad, I hope that these treasured recollections inspire a return to Japan,” Koike said.

At the core of her belief is the notion that genuine emotions from guests stem from her sincere hospitality. With unwavering consistency, she upholds a demeanor of humility and thoughtfulness toward both guests and colleagues.

Koike said her sentiment is deeply influenced by the pioneering Toshiko Takeya, who catered to state and other honored guests and was renowned for her heartfelt hospitality — a trait that earned her high praise and endeared her to many. Koike believes that Takeya’s deeply ingrained spirit of hospitality was a legacy passed down from Eiichi Shibusawa, the inaugural chairman of the Imperial Hotel.

Koike learned the essence of the Imperial’s hospitality while observing Takeya. Following in Takeya’s footsteps, Koike learned to always inspect even under the beds before starting her cleaning routine, ensuring nothing was overlooked, and came to understand the significance of being thorough in her work and confident in her actions at all times. Just as Koike learned by watching Takeya’s way, many have learned from Koike’s lead, and have carried on the traditions of the hotel.

Yukiko Sato, the Manager of Concierge and Guest Attendant, follows Koike’s example in the spirit of hospitality. She said, “I truly believe that the cleaning tips I learned from my seniors when I first joined the hotel have become the basis for my work. When we prepare rooms with all our heart and with our guests in mind, our hospitality is often conveyed to them.”

Sato and her colleagues take a single rose from a vase in a guest’s room, sometimes with Koike’s help, and present it as a souvenir in the form of potpourri. “I feel that our hospitality is well conveyed to our guests, even if they come from different cultures and nationalities,” Sato said. Koike sees Sato’s wholehearted dedication to her work as a demonstration of strong leadership, setting an example for junior hoteliers.

Near the employee entrance, there is a bulletin board featuring updates on staff activities and hotel news. Sato stops by and peruses these newsletters, finding inspiration in the dedication of her colleagues. She explained, “Being aware of the hard work put in by fellow staff members also drives my motivation. I love this place that instills such feelings in me.”

A new history is about to be written for the Imperial Hotel, with the Tower Building being rebuilt from 2024 to 2030 and the Main Building from 2031 to 2036. Though the views from the guest rooms’ windows change over time, Koike said, the hotel’s warm hospitality endures.

The Wright Building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was completed in 1923.



そのホスピタリティ精神を引き継ぐ一人、コンシェルジュ ゲスト アテンダント支配人の佐藤由貴子は「入社当時先輩から学んだ掃除の心得がいま私の土台になっている」と語る。小池は「おもてなしの心は、帝国ホテル初代会長、渋沢栄一が創り上げ、代々受け継がれたもの」と言う。小池は、佐藤が心を込めて仕事に取り組む姿を見て「佐藤も後輩たちに、その背中をしっかり見せている」と感じている。

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