Tokyo Hotel Delays Closing, Opens Doors to Earthquake Refugees

The Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka, once the glittering jewel of Tokyo's skyline and a symbol of Japan's robust 'bubble economy', was scheduled to close at the end of March. Then came the catastrophic Great Tohoku Kanto Earthquake and a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

Touched by the plight of people who survived the earthquake and tsunami but lost most everything else, the hotel's owners have offered to keep the hotel open until the end of June to house approximately 1,600 evacuees from the hardest hit zone. 
It's no fun being a refugee but the 700 rooms at the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka are a far cry from chilly community centers and drafty tents. Room service and other amenities will not be available to the evacuees, however, though the rooms will remain furnished with the original beds and blankets.

This writer stayed at what was then known as the Akasaka Prince Hotel Tokyo for a few days in 1990, right around the time Japan's decade-long economic bubble was beginning to deflate. My room was sparkling clean, the services were prompt and courteous, and the food was carefully prepared (and oh so delicious!). It may not have been the most modern facility – traditional metal keys were issued instead of electronic card keys – but the view of Tokyo's endless skyline was magnificent!

The 40-story hotel was designed by famed Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, who designed the building so that “every spacious room is a corner room.” When it opened for business in 1982 it was called the Kitashirakawa Palace. The hotel was renamed “Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka” in 2007 but the name change was too little and too late: the building required a host of structural and decorative changes in order to keep up with newer luxury hotels like the Grand Hyatt Tokyo and the Conrad Tokyo.

The Prince hotel group was unwilling to consider renovations with the Japanese economy still suffering through post-bubble doldrums. In April of 2010, the Prince hotel group announced the hotel would be closed at the end of March 2011 and would subsequently be demolished.

Sadly, events have conspired to give this downtown Tokyo landmark a short reprieve from the wrecking ball. It's somewhat ironic that the luxurious hotel which once hosted luncheons, meetings and press conferences by government mandarins and captains of industry will now be home, albeit temporarily, to refugees from Japan's greatest post-war disaster. I'm sure the Prince Hotel Group's kind gesture will be appreciated, even if there are no mints on the pillows. (via WSJ Blogs, main image via Yuka Takahashi)