When the first Imperial Hotel opened in Tokyo in 1890, it was a wooden, three-storied, Western-styled building.
Its successor, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, opened in 1923, the day before the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated much of the city.
Stories are legion of Tetsuzo Inumaru, then general manager, who organized his staff to save the hotel from fire, and to help guests, employees, and refugees in the streets.
The irrepressible Tetsuzo was president of the hotel when he retired. In time, his son, Ichiro, became president and general manager.
Ichiro’s son, Tetsuro Inumaru, has now completed 10 years working at the hotel and is currently director of the Imperial’s restaurants. He is proud of his hotelier blood, and wears lightly the good name and fame of his predecessors.
“When I was in high school, I told my grandfather that I wanted to be a diplomat. He immediately and very passionately replied, ‘no,’ and I was too timid to ask him why.
“He asked me later on what I was going to do when I went to Yosemite summer camp in California, and I said I wanted to learn some English. He said that it was better for me to make lots of friends.
“Years later, at school in Europe, I remembered his advice, and realized how important it was to have lots of connections with friends around the globe,” Inumaru said.
He has in full measure the good cheer and jollity that both his father and his grandfather had. His name and family history did not make Inumaru’s rise automatic in the hotel business. As every entrant, he had to begin at the bottom.
Inumaru’s pioneering grandfather, when he was back on the first rung of the ladder, had to clean windows and polish brass, peel potatoes and scrub the floors in top-class hotels in London, Paris, and New York.
Inumaru’s innovative father, who eventually set his own seal on Imperial operations, began as janitor, room boy and kitchen assistant.
What did the present Inumaru do when, with a degree in political science from Keio University, he went for training to the Lausanne Beau Rivage Hotel in Switzerland?
“I did everything,” he laughed. “But I had the chance to work with hotel industry legends.” His high spirits and friendliness stood him in good stead as he worked at the Lausanne Hotel School and then at the George V Hotel in Paris.
As a trainee he went on to Maison Mumm, the champagne company, and Maison Jean Rouget, the foie gras house in Perigeaux.
“It was tough to learn French back then,” he said. “At first I couldn’t understand a word. When I began training at the George V there were virtually no Japanese hotel people working in Paris, and none at all at the George V.
No one in the kitchen knew any Japanese at all. Once I found eggs thrown into my locker. The first few weeks were very hard, but within a year I felt comfortable with daily conversation. I speak French reasonably well now.”
Back in Japan, Inumaru entered the Hotel New Grand in Yokohama before joining the Imperial Hotel. He became director of the office of the general manager, then director of sales, before moving to the restaurant round in 2005.
“Restaurants are very important indeed,” Inumaru said. “We operate or accommodate 20 separate venues serving food and drink. We have over 5,000 guests using our restaurants and food services every day.
“I’m concerned with safety, and with our reputation. I am trying to instill in each of our restaurants a very specific characteristic and style.”
Recently, the Imperial Hotel opened the Parkside Diner, which Inumaru describes as “a reinvention of the classic mid-century American diner.” He calls Les Saisons under Thierry Voisin “a sort of temple of haute cuisine in Tokyo,” and La Brasserie as offering “French-based highly popular classics.”
He concludes, “We want to make sure our patrons know that each of our restaurants has a specific character all its own.”