Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, a hot spring hotel in the mountains of Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture, has been in business for more than 1,300 years, more than five times as long as the United States has existed. Still, it feels considerably more modern than the average American motel, let alone the long-established accommodations in England. “I assumed I would be living in something like a living museum here,” says Youtuber Tom Scott, who vlogs from his own room at Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, “because that’s what I expected from such historical attractions. you’ll find in Britain’, where the ideology of preservation asserts that ‘everything must be organized at some point in time, funded by tourists who want to visit an old thing and see history’.
Not so in Japan, whose notions of new and old have never quite matched those of the West. “There’s still tradition,” Scott hastens to add. “It is not a western style hotel. You sleep on futons; dinner is served at a low Japanese-style table.” But the actual complex where guests now stay “was only a hotel in the English sense for a few decades. Before, it was just a place to stay and get water. Now there is very fast wi-fi and of course a gift shop.”
The movement and replacement of its buildings over the centuries is reminiscent of the Great Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture, freshly rebuilt every twenty years, or even the tendency of existing Japanese houses to be torn down rather than occupied by buyers.
Although Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan has long avoided too much publicity—its current president, Kawano Kenjiro, explains that the stay of the Japanese emperor when he was crown prince was kept quiet for that reason—lately, it has become irresistible to YouTubers. We’ve featured it here on Open Culture before, and you can see another look at it in the House of History video above, which explains how it’s managed to maintain its continuity. Kawano, who has worked at the hotel since he was 25, decided not to go the standard route of legal adoption into the family that had always owned the place. So instead of inheriting it, he created Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan Limited, technically a new corporate entity, but one that should be good for at least another millennium or two.
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based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastson cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books about cities, book The Stateless City: A Walking Tour of 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.