After a careful restoration, the historic Kanaya Samurai House in Nikko was re-opened to the public from March 29th. The property forms a very significant part of Japan’s hotel industry as it was the very first western-style hotel in Japan.
The 2-storey wooden house was built in the 1640s as a samurai residence. In the late 1800s it was the residence of Zenichiro Kanaya. Mr. Kanaya was inspired to open up his home to foreign guests after hosting a foreign friend, James Curtis Hepburn, a Christian missionary who created the Hepburn romanisation system for Japanese. Mr. Hepburn saw the appeal of the Nikko area and the potential for foreign visitors, and suggested that Mr. Kanaya create accommodation catering to foreign tourists.
Mr. Kanaya made some alterations to the home and opened it up to guests as the Kanaya Cottage Inn in 1873. British traveler, writer and historian, Isabella Bird, wrote about her stay at the inn in 1878 in her book ‘Unbeaten Tracks in Japan’, which further helped to promote the area and the hotel.
Some of the former hotel guest included:
- Sir Harry Smith Parkes, diplomat.
- Emile Etienne Guimet, French industrialist and traveler.
- US President Ulysses S. Grant.
- Samuel Rawson Gardiner, historian.
- Thomas Blake Glover, merchant.
- Walter Weston, missionary and mountaineer.
- Sir Alfred East, painter.
In 1893, Mr. Kanaya decided to expand and bought the Mikada Hotel, which was located one kilometre away, and converted it into the current Nikko Kanaya Hotel.
The original owner was facing financial difficulties and in 2012, the house and land was foreclosed and sold at a public auction. There was only one bidder – Mr. Saruhashi, a descendent of Zenichiro – who paid 33 million Yen for the property. He spent a further 120 million Yen to restore the property and obtained a national heritage listing in 2014.
The owner held a special pre-opening event on March 13, which marked the 200th anniversary of James Hepburn’s birth.
Mr. Saruhashi, who is the operator of the Kanaya Hotel Bakery, built a restaurant, bakery and gift shop nearby, and hopes that Kanaya Hotel History House will become a new tourist attraction for visitors to Nikko.
1-25 Honcho, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture
- 2.5km from Nikko Station
- 1.2km from the Nikko Kanaya Hotel
The old Samurai House is open from 9:30 ~ 16:30. Admission is 400 Yen for adults and 200 Yen for children.
The Shimotsuke Shimbun, March 14, 2015.
The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2015.
Kanaya Hotel History House website (English): http://nikko-kanaya-history.jp/en/
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