20th Sep 2012
Hilltop Hotel in Tokyo
In the buzzing metropolis that is Tokyo, the Hilltop Hotel (Yama no Ue) modestly guards its literary heritage as it sits atop Surugadai Hill.
In Japan’s most expensive city – where 12 million residents live within 2,102 square kilometres – space is at a premium, high-rises are the norm, and frequent rebuilding is a common occurrence.
In this ultra-modern landscape, the Hilltop Hotel remains the same, a rare gem of Old Tokyo in the ever-changing panorama of the city.
The Art Deco building was designed by American missionary William Merrell Vories and opened its doors in 1937, not as a hotel but as an institute for education on Western culture.
However, the timing for this paean to the West couldn’t have been worse, as the building was commandeered by the Imperial Navy, and then requisitioned and used by the US army during the Occupation.
It was refurbished and opened as a hotel in 1954 and soon the literati began to gravitate towards the “hotel on the hill”. Its proximity to Jinbōchō, where many publishers were based, made it a popular spot for editors to house their writers away from distractions so that they could finish their novels, a practice known as kanzume (canning).
Today, the hotel is still an occasional hangout for the city’s writers, journalists, and scholars. It retains a dusty old-world charm, with wood-trim, antique furniture, and writing desks in the older bedrooms.
It is also the only hotel in Tokyo that circulates oxygen and negative ions into its rooms, which is believed to boost concentration (and also sounds like the perfect antidote to both jet-lag and writers’ block).
There are a number of restaurants to choose from in the hotel, and Mon Mont – the tiny bar with its cosy capacity of just nine seats – seems an ideal spot for close encounters with eccentric Haruki Murakami-esque characters.
For those in need of a further literary fix, or a desire to pick up some of the books that were written at the Hilltop, there’s Tokyo’s famous book district, Jinbō.
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