Ken Yokoyama: ‘Be selfless and look at the big picture’


Special To The Japan Times

Name: Ken Yokoyama
Age: 55
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Consultant, former general manager of Hyatt Regency Kyoto
Likes: Everything really, especially things that are unique and authentic
Dislikes: Dishonesty, abuse, especially of children

1. You recently left your position as general manager of Hyatt Regency Kyoto to work as a consultant. Can you briefly describe what you do now? I work as a consultant on different projects mainly connected to tourism, hospitality and agriculture promoting Kyoto and Japan.

2. How did you get started working in the hospitality industry? After graduating university, I joined the Hyatt. I had worked as a night porter at the Miyako Hotel in Shinagawa. I hated it because of the hours.

3. What has a life spent working in the hospitality industry taught you? I’m still learning, but communication is everything with guests, workers, my colleagues, my family. Communication is key.

4. Do you have a favorite hotel in Japan? So many really: Park Hyatt Tokyo, Park Hotel Tokyo, Andaz Tokyo, The Palace Hotel in Tokyo. Also, ryokan such as Gora Kadan in Hakone (Kanagawa Prefecture) and Kayotei in Ishikawa Prefecture.

5. Where do you go to relax or retreat? I’m always relaxed. Something as simple as walking down the street in Kyoto can relax me — and it doesn’t cost me anything.

6. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? Hai (yes).

7. What’s your favorite word or phrase in any language? It’s more of a prayer than a phrase, but I like the “serenity prayer.” It applies to everything, including working in hospitality.

8. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had in your line of work? A guest en route from New York to Tokyo once requested a pink Cadillac. And I got it for him!

9. Inbound tourism in Japan is booming. What makes Japan a great destination? A few factors. There’s been a lot more promotion of Japan as a tourist destination. Fundamentally, there’s the mystique of Japan: It’s in the Far East, but it’s also Westernized in so many ways. And finally, there’s the people.

10. Staying with tourism, what can be done to promote areas in Japan that are not benefitting from the tourist boom? It’s a matter of communication, getting more exposure to those parts of Japan that are not benefiting. But it’s also a matter of improving infrastructure, for example accommodation and transport links. Word of mouth is still hugely important in getting people to visit new places.

11. According to American food writer Matt Goulding, you have the keys to Kyoto. As someone who was not born in Kyoto, how did you manage to ingratiate yourself with the city? That’s, well, not true. It takes time to build relationships and I was lucky to get to know some people who introduced me to networks of different people within Kyoto. Of course, contacts are important.

12. What’s the nicest thing a guest has ever done or said to you? “Thank you.” A lot of the guests try to say it in Japanese and in their own language. As long as it’s said with sincerity, that’s all that matters.

13. If you could share a meal with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and where would you eat? A few people: my father and mother, Ernest Hemingway, John Arden and, perhaps, somewhere like Kodaiji Wakuden in Kyoto.

14. What’s the best advice you ever received? From my father: “Be nice to people.” He was very strict with me, but this is good advice.

15. What’s the most important factor in running a successful hotel? Attention, communication, love.

16. What was the most stressful day or event of your career? I don’t remember the most stressful day but in a way every day is stressful, because anything can happen in a hotel.

17. How would you describe omotenashi? I’ve studied this word, its origins and impact, but I don’t think omotenashi should be something that’s forced.

18. What’s your favorite book or movie? Hemingway’s novels, especially “The Old Man and The Sea.”

19. What did you want to be when you grew up? Has anything changed since then? Nothing special really. I wasn’t really thinking so much about the future when I was a young man.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Be selfless and look at the big picture.