History of Kanaya Hotel

In 1873, only five years after the Meiji Restoration, Zenichiro Kanaya opened Kanaya Cottage Inn, which was specifically designated to accommodate foreign guests. In relocating the business to another location in Nikko, he established a full-fledged hotel, Kanaya Hotel, which is widely known today as the oldest western-style resort hotel in Japan. Following Zenichiro’s death in 1923, his son Shinichi took over the hotel management. However, the hotel underwent difficult times during the Second World War when many of its employees were drafted into military service.
When the war ended in 1945, the American army of occupation assumed control of the hotel. This lasted until 1952.

While Japan has drastically changed over the years, Kanaya Hotel has followed in the footsteps of its founder and upheld its tradition with pride as Japan’s oldest western-style resort hotel.

The Hotel with Over 140 Years of History

Shinichi (1st son) Zenichiro Shouzo (2nd son)
photographed in 1899

  • Kanaya Cottage Inn (1888)

  • Kanaya Hotel (Late Meiji)

  • Kanaya Hotel (1916)

  • Kanaya Hotel (present)

People Who Supported Zenichiro’s Venture

It was indeed extraordinary to start hotel business for foreigners in early Meiji period. Japanese people at that time held a deep prejudice against foreigners. It was extremely difficult for them to accept cultures and languages that were incomprehensible to them. In these circumstances, Zenichiro Kanaya offered a room for Dr. James C. Hepburn to stay during his first visit to Nikko in 1870. It was then that Dr. Hepburn encouraged Zenichiro to go into hotel business with an eye toward Nikko’s future.

Zenichiro, a 21-year old member of the Toshogu Gagaku (an ancient imperial court music) Orchestra, had little experience with foreigners, let alone in speaking English. The success of Kanaya Cottage Inn came as a result of Zenichiro’s open-mindedness and energy, as well as the strong support he received from the people he attracted.

Dr. James C. Hepburn, who was living in Yokohama, recommended Kanaya Cottage Inn to his friends. Isabella Bird was one of them. She visited Nikko and stayed at Kanaya Cottage Inn on her way to Hokkaido. She wrote favorably of Nikko, Zenichiro, Kanaya’s service and hospitality in her travelogue, “Unbeaten Tracks in Japan” published in 1880.
Zenichiro also had hearty support from his family. In particular, his older sister Sen, assisted Zenichiro with her warm personality and elegant manners that many guests noticed and appreciated.
Nenpo Kobayashi, a Nikko-born millionaire, gave Zenichiro financial support that made possible the opening and operation of the hotel business. Shotaro Sakamaki was hired as Kanaya Cottage Inn’s manager and interpreter to help Zenichiro to understand western customs and English.

Dr. James C. Hepburn 1815 – 1911

An American medical and Christian missionary to Japan. Dr. Hepburn was the founder of “Hepburn romanization” of the Japanese language. He also was the founder of Meiji Gakuin University. He completed the Japanese translation of the Old Testament around 1880. He also played an important role in Japan’s modern medicine, university education and Christian missions in Japan.

Isabella Bird 1831 – 1904

The first foreign woman to travel in the northern Japan in 1878. On her way to Hokkaido, she stopped in Nikko where she stayed at Kanaya Cottage Inn for twelve days. She subsequently visited Nikko twice and stayed at Kanaya Hotel each time. She left behind many sketches of what she saw during her stay in Japan.

Sen (Kanaya) Saruhashi 1848 – 1924

Sen stayed at Zenichiro’s house while her husband was away on business trips. She was highly involved in the early days of Kanaya Cottage Inn. Her graceful and refined approach received praise from Isabella Bird.

Nenpo Kobayashi 1848 – 1895

Nenpo came from a distinguished family in Nikko who served the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Edo Period. After imperial rule was restored in 1867, Nenpo moved to Shizuoka to follow the last Shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa. In 1879, Nenpo founded the 35th National Bank (currently Shizuoka Bank) and became its first president. He opened Kobayashi Bank in Nikko in 1889.

Shotaro Sakamaki 1863 – 1919

Shotaro was born into a wealthy family in Otawara, which is located to the north of Nikko. In 1885, he traveled to America at the age of 22 to study hotel management in San Francisco. After returning to Japan, Shotaro worked as the manager and interpreter of Kanaya Cottage Inn. He also taught English to Zenichiro’s two sons. In 1894, he opened Lakeside Hotel on the shore of Lake Chuzenji, Nikko. He married the oldest daughter of Zenichiro’s sister Sen.

Renowned Foreign Guests at Kanaya Hotel

When Japan finally opened its doors to the world in 1854 after more than 200 years of isolation, it received an influx of foreigners who arrived in Japan for diplomatic purposes. The number of visitors to Nikko also increased sharply, especially after the government began in 1874 to issue domestic travel licenses to the foreigners who wished to travel to rural areas. The signatures of some historical figures still remain on the pages of Kanaya Hotel’s old guest books.

Guest Book of 1895 (Isabella Bird signed as Mrs. Bishop)

Guest Book of 1922 (Albert Einstein signed)

James Hepburn
(USA) (Medical Missionary) 

Harry Parkes
(UK) (Counsel-General)

Isabella Bird
(UK) (Explorer)

Ulysses Grant
(USA) (President)

Samuel Gardiner
(UK) (Historian)

Walter Weston
(UK) (Missionary)

Basil Chamberlain
(UK) (Japanologist)

Erwin Balz
(Germany) (Medical Scientist)

Frank Wright
(USA) (Architect)

Prince Arthur of Connaught
Year Notable Events (Japan & World) Events Related to Nikko and   Kanaya Hotel  Renowned Foreign Guests of Kanaya Cottage Inn and Kanaya Hotel
1851 World Exposition in London (UK)    
1852   Zenichiro Kanaya was born  
1853 Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan    
1854 Japan opened the country to the world    
1861 Outbreak of Civil War (USA)    
1863 End of Civil War (USA)    
  Emancipation Proclamation (USA)    
1867 End of the Shogunate / Emperor Meiji began his rule (Japan)    
1870   Dr. Hepburn suggested Zenichiro opem a hotel for foreigners James Hepburn (USA) (Medical Missionary)
1871 Japan sent a delegation to Europe and the U.S. (the Iwakura Mission)    
1872   Earnest Satow, a U.K. privy counsellor, visited Nikko  
    Earnest Satow’s "A Guidebook to Nikko" was published in Yokohama  
1873   Zenichiro Kanaya, at the age of 21, opened Kanaya Cottage Inn  
1874 Meiji government started issuing domestic travel permits to foreign representatives (Japan)   Harry Parkes (UK) (Counsel-General)
1876 Alexander Graham Bell invented telephone (USA)   Emile Guimet (France) (Businessman)
      Felix Regamey (France) (Artist)
1877 Thomas Edison developed gramophone and phonograph (USA)   Edward Morse (USA) (Anthropologist)
1878   Isabella Bird visited Nikko and stayed at Kanaya Cottage Inn Isabella Bird (UK) (Explorer)
1879   Shinichi Kanaya, Zenichiro’s first son, was born Ulysses Grant (USA) (President)
1880   Isabella Bird’s "Unbeaten Tracks in Japan" was published in the U.K. Arthur Crow (UK) (Writer)
1881     Edmond Coteau (France) (Explorer)
1883 Orient Express railway began service (Europe)   Samuel Gardiner (UK) (Historian)
1885     Thomas Glover (Scotland) (Merchant)
1887     William Kirkwood (UK) (Lawyer)
      Earnest Fenollosa (USA) (Art Historian)
      William Bigelow (USA) (Art Historian)
1888     Walter Weston (Missionary)
1889     Alfred East (UK) (Artist)
1893   Kanaya Cottage Inn was relocated to Hatsuishi and newly opened as Kanaya Hotel  
1894   Shotaro Sakamaki opened Lakeside Hotel on the shore of Lake Chuzenji  
1896   Earnest Satow’s private lodge was built on the shore of Lake Chuzenji  
1901 Queen Victoria died (UK)    
1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance    
1904     Basil Chamberlain (UK) (Tokyo Univ. Prof.)
      Erwin Balz (Germany) (Medical Scientist)
1905     Frank Wright (USA) (Architect)
1906     Prince Arthur of Connaught (UK)
1912 Meiji Emperor died (Japan)    
1914 Outbreak of World War I    
1917 Russian Revolution (Russia)    
1922     Price of Wales (UK)
      Albert Einstein (USA) (Physicist)
1923 Great Kanto Earthquake (Japan) Zenichiro Kanaya died at the age of 72  
1925   Hans Hunter established Tokyo Angling and Country Club  
1926 Taisho Emperor died (Japan)   Prince of Sweden (Sweden)
      Prince Geroge (UK)
1928     Prince Henry (UK)
1929 Great Depression (USA) Tobu Nikko Railroad began service Werner Heisenberg (Germany) (Physicist)
      Paul Dirac (Germany) (Physicist)
1931     Charles Lindbergh (USA) (Aviator)
1932     Charles Chaplin (UK) (Actor)
1934   Nikko was designated as a national park  
1937     Helen Keller (USA) (Author)
1939 Outbreak of World War II    
1945 World War II ended Kanaya Hotel came under the control of the American occupation army (GHQ)  
1946     Dwight Eisenhower (USA) (President)
1951   Toshogu Shrine was designated as a national treasure  
1952   Kanaya Hotel was released from GHQ control  
1953   The 80th anniversary of Kanaya Hotel  
1957     Indira Gandhi (India) (Politician)
1963 President Kennedy was assassinated (USA) The 90th anniversary of Kanaya Hotel  
1964 Tokyo Olympic Games (Japan)    
  Shinkansen began service (Japan)    
1965     Mikhail Sholokhov (Russia) (Novelist)
1972 Sapporo Winter Olympic Games (Japan)    
1973 Middle East War The 100th anniversary of Kanaya Hotel  
1983     Princess Anne (UK)
1989 Showa Emperor died (Japan)    
1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake (Japan)    
1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games (Japan)    
1999   Nikko’s shrines and temples were registered as a World Heritage Site  
2003 Iraq War    
2011 Great East Japan Earthquake (Japan)    
2013   The 140th anniversary of Kanaya Hotel  
2014 Kanaya Samurai House and Storehouse were registered as nationally-designated cultural properties
2015 Kanaya Hotel History House opened 
  • Kanaya Hotel