Classic hotel takes center stage at Ise-Shima Summit

by Dave Hueston

Kyodo

The opening to the novel “Karei naru Ichizoku” (The Glorious Family) by the late Japanese author Toyoko Yamasaki describes the splendid twilight descending upon Ago Bay in the Shima Peninsula, when the sun begins to tilt and the tide is full.

And in a brief moment when all the sky is ablaze, the passage continues, the sky above Ago Bay and the sea below blend into the crimson color of a brilliant flame.

This is the surreal backdrop of the Shima Kanko Hotel Classic, the stage of the Ise-Shima Summit taking place May 26-27 on Kashiko Island in the southern part of the peninsula in Mie Prefecture.

Opened on a hill in 1951 as the first large-scale Western-style resort after World War II, the luxury hotel anticipated the development of the tourism industry there after the Shima Peninsula was designated Ise-Shima National Park on Nov. 20, 1946.

Japanese people had been traveling to the region for years before the war to take part in the Shikinen Sengu ceremony, or the dismantling and rebuilding of the Ise Grand Shrine every 20 years, but it was Captain Walter Popham of GHQ’s civil information and educational section who played a significant role in the region’s designation as a national park.

The close relationship with Ise Grand Shrine — the country’s preeminent shrine — appeared to influence him.

“Before the war, especially in 1929, there were a lot of people who came for the Ise Shikinen Sengu, and from then the tourist industry began,” said Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki in a recent press conference at the Mie Prefectural Government Office.

According to the governor, before the war there was a movement to designate the area Shima National Park but this was rejected by the Interior Ministry as being short-sighted. “Popham went to the Jingu Kannamesai Festival at Ise Grand Shrine (located northwest of Shima in the city of Ise) in October and was so impressed with the beauty he saw there, he said if the name is Ise-Shima National Park we will recognize it,” Suzuki said.

Kashiko Island, which has an area of just 0.62 square kilometers and a circumference of 7.3 kilometers, is the largest of the many scattered islands in the deeply indented coastline that is teeming with pearl-cultivation rafts.

It was uninhabited until 1929, when the Shima Electric Railway (now the Kintetsu Shima Line) was constructed there with the aim of becoming a sea version of Karuizawa, the famous mountain resort in Nagano Prefecture.

With a population of 101, the island with its picturesque vistas and “fruits of the sea” has become a central location for some 10 million visitors per year.

Ise-Shima National Park is 96 percent private land, making it the most settled population of all 30 designated national parks in the country. The harmony of human activity with nature is the emphasis for the summit, Suzuki said.

The Kyuikirin forest that surrounds both the Inner and Outer shrines of Ise Grand Shrine is 5,500 square hectares. It is Japan’s largest shrine grove, verdant with everything from Chinese witch hazel to Jingu azaleas. Wild animals such as boar, flying squirrels and monkeys also abound there.

“You can really see how closely (nature) is linked to the people’s daily lives. This summit is all about the daily lives surrounding the people,” Suzuki said.

Shima Kanko Hotel Classic, which is currently being refurbished, was designed by architect Togo Murano, who also led the renovation of the Akasaka Palace where visiting state dignitaries stay in Tokyo. When they gather at the hotel, the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. will likely discuss global economic stability and other pressing issues, such as Africa’s development.

Emperor Hirohito (posthumously Showa) stayed at Shima Kanko Hotel Classic five times and was even inspired when overlooking the scenery from Ago Bay to write a poem about the landscape. Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace of Monaco, the former Hollywood actress, stayed there in 1981.

Yamasaki often wrote from her favorite room at the hotel and her novel “Karei naru Ichizoku” was made into a movie and filmed there.

The G-7 leaders are expected to stay at the posh Bay Suites annex, which houses 50 suites, all of 100 square meters or more. There are around 50,000 pearls that adorn curtains and other objects inside, including a chandelier in the vestibule decked out with 9,000 pearls.

They will also be treated there to French cuisine at the La Mer restaurant, featuring local seafood such as the Ise-Ebi lobster and black abalone steak.

From a garden on the building’s fifth-floor roof, the saw-toothed coastline can be viewed from 360-degrees. On a clear day, the location is said to be one of the 100 best locations to view the sunset in the country. An overnight stay for two people, including breakfast, at the Bay Suites starts from about ¥50,000 per person.

“I’d like the guests to see this complicated and beautiful landscape of Ago Bay and the oyster-cultivation rafts floating there, and if when the weather is good to enjoy the sunset here,” said Shima Kanko Hotel General Manager Akira Minamiura.

Kintetsu Inc. offers a “Mawaryanse” unlimited “super passport” for limited-express trains for visitors traveling both to the Ise-Shima region with free admission to a number tourist sites. The ticket is ¥9,800 for adults and ¥5,300 for children. Services on the Kintetsu Shima Line are expected to be suspended from about a week before the summit for security reasons between Ugata Station and Kashikojima Station, both in the city of Shima. Shima Kanko Hotel is just 300 meters from Kashikojima Station.