Sunday, June 17, 2012

Guessing games at Tokyo's Okura Hotel

The other day, I was suddenly and literally in Tokyo for a day and a half for something urgent in-between Manila, Hong Kong and Istanbul. That was when I found myself at the lobby of Hotel Okura in Tokyo somewhere in those 36 hours in Japan (it was 4 PM on Thursday afternoon, actually) reminiscing about the many interesting lunches and dinners I'd had in the Okura's Orchid Room close to two decades ago.

I had just finished graduate research studies at Tokyo's Sophia University then. And at the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo, first directly under the great statesman Ambassador Ramon del Rosario Sr. and then afterwards under former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Domingo Siazon, I was given the unprecedented responsbility of marketing and handling the public relations of the Philippine government in Japan.


It was a most unusual and challenging post for such a young person, but this was literally how I found myself at the dinner tables with some of Japan's most important people at the height of its Golden Age in the 1990s.

I would often attend very exclusive dinners and cocktails where, of course, I was often the youngest person in the room. I liked to give sit-down dinners or lunches as well and use these venues for an exchange of ideas.

There was a lovely French restaurant then in Roppongi where I liked hosting small events to which many famous and important people showed up. Here, my guests and I would talk politics and change, and in the process I would weave in a good image of the Philippines. To think I was just in my early 20s and already hostess to some of the most famous names of the day.

I've been very lucky with my life. I can think of no other job so amazing for a new graduate than what I was doing in Japan for the Philippines then. And although I have a hundred memories, there are a couple I'll never forget. But I'll save that for another blog. Scroll down to read the rest of my Okura Hotel story first...


The Okura Hotel is not Japan's flashiest hotel but it certainly is one of its top two prestigious hotels. It's quite old so it won't wow you over but it will soothe you in a way that you know is the best of traditional Japanese design and the product of decades and decades of service. Similarly, the Orchid Room, a restaurant off the hotel's main lobby, is not a very fancy place, but it's certainly a fine place in a very genteel, old-fashioned way.

In the 1990s, it was a favorite meeting place of a great friend of mine -- a senior Japanese bureaucrat who had enough political clout and patina (his father had been a long-time mayor of a very prestigious town in Japan) to be able to buck the pretty rigid system in place then.

He was smart, ambitious and well-placed, and part of a clique of similarly privileged men in government who were senior enough to influence society via their extensive networks, but also young enough to still be considered young Turks. He and his group of friends wanted to change the world of Japan then, but unfortunately he was too far ahead of his time. Japan didn't change quickly enough.

Anyway, this Orchid Room was our standard dinner place, as it was in between his office and mine. And last Thursday, I was remembering our very idealistic conversations in this very hotel when it suddenly struck me that the greenery right in the middle of the lobby was so very pretty.


Immediately I snapped a photo on my phone and posted it on Facebook with the following message: "Anyone who can guess which hotel in the world I am in right now deserves a prize from Travelife Magazine." I'd blogged about going to Istanbul and to Europe, but I'd not really told anyone about Tokyo as it had been pretty much a spur-of-the-moment decision. So it was a good choice for a guessing game.

And I'd taken the photo in a way that not even regular guests of the Hotel Okura -- this is the hotel of choice for many heads of state, by the way -- would recognize it. So I was pretty sure people would have a hard time guessing.

Well, lots of our Facebook friends certainly had fun posting excellent guesses of hotels around the world. I'd given the following clues: (1) It had a restaurant named after a flower; (2) It was a luxury hotel in Northeast Asia.

There were about 30 guesses when finally Richard Joye, obviously someone who knows his way about luxury hotels, not only gave the correct answer but also included a short description of the Orchid Room and the design of the Okura Hotel. Wow. I was so impressed. And of course he got the prize.

Just another afternoon in a never-ending and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


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