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Japan's oldest resort hotel going back to its international roots

Kanaya hotel, resort, bakery units to jointly develop travel products

The Nikko Kanaya Hotel is the oldest Western-style resort hotel in Japan.

TOKYO -- The historic Nikko Kanaya Hotel, the oldest Western-style resort hotel in Japan, is going back to its roots and making a new push to attract foreign guests. Three branches of the original family business are coming together to promote its venerated name. 

Established in 1873, the hotel, originally called Kanaya Cottage Inn, was inspired by a chance encounter between local Shinto shrine musician Zenichiro Kanaya and James Curtis Hepburn, an American Christian missionary who visited the town of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, an area known for its natural beauty, as a tourist.

Upon hearing that Hepburn was struggling to find a place to stay, due to being a foreigner, Kanaya offered him a room in his house. Hepburn -- who later became known for the Hepburn romanization system for writing Japanese in the Latin alphabet -- suggested to his host that if Nikko had a facility accommodating overseas guests, it would help the town grow into an international tourist destination.

Convinced, Kanaya turned his home into a hotel for foreigners and named it Kanaya Cottage Inn. Its dazzling list of past guests includes American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, physicist Albert Einstein, baseball player Lou Gehrig and former Indian leader Indira Gandhi.

Kanaya Hotel, the operator of the original hotel and part of the Tobu Railway group, is planning to work with Kanaya Resorts, which runs hotels at the nearby Kinugawa hot springs, as well as in Izu and Hakone, to jointly develop travel products. Another company bearing the same family name, Kanaya Hotel Bakery, which supplies hotels, department stores and supermarkets with the hotel's famed bakery products, will also join the collaboration.

As a first step, the partners will develop package deals for multiple-night stays at their hotels, to be rolled out as early as this coming spring. The packages will tout such attractions as a history museum housed in the original building of the Nikko Kanaya Hotel, and which is run by the bakery. The companies will also consider developing food products and tapping each other's sales channels.

Zenichiro Kanaya was a member of an Imperial court orchestra at Toshogu Shrine in Nikko. The founding family later created the three companies, which share the Kanaya name but have separate capital and management and, until now, limited collaboration.

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