Behind the front desk of the Nikko Kanaya Hotel hang photos of an unlikely trio: James Curtis Hepburn, Isabella Bird and Zenichiro Kanaya. Hotel President Takayasu Akiyama connected the dots over a cup of java in the Maple Leaf Lounge.

Zenichiro was a ninth-generation player of the sho, a reed instrument, in the gagaku (Japanese classical music) orchestra of Nikko's Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture. When Hepburn, a medical missionary, visited Nikko in 1871, he could not find lodging. Zenichiro put him up.

Hepburn repaid the strapped Zenichiro with a suggestion: Turn your home into a guest house for foreigners. Two years later, Zenichiro opened the Kanaya Cottage Inn.