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Travel: The Far West

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Lloyd Nakano typically wears a suit for his job as managing director of the Hotel Seiyo Ginza in Tokyo. But on this morning in late May, as he does several times a month, the slim, energetic gentleman dons jeans for a visit, with a few hotel guests in tow, to the sprawling, bustling Tsukiji fish market. This is a place where people with interesting scars work, and Nakano, who was born and reared in Hawaii and speaks fluent Japanese and English, moves among them with confidence.
  
Nakano leads his party past booths, where butchers slice red-fleshed fish with knives as long as their arms, before stopping at a warehouse where a plump, bespectacled man is standing on a crate and speaking loudly before a small crowd. Although his words are Japanese, the hypnotic cadence with which he delivers them instantly identifies him as an auctioneer. On the block—or rather, the warehouse floor—is tuna. Workers use long-handled hooks to pull the frozen fish carcasses into lines, while the auctioneer continues his spiel, raising his hand every few seconds to signal the start of another auction. Once a row of tuna has been sold, the auctioneer dismounts the crate and advances to another that has been placed a few feet ahead—all the while never ceasing to call for and accept bids on the fish. “I love this guy,” Nakano says in English. “He’s got a great rhythm.”

Following the auction, Nakano invites his guests to breakfast at his favorite local sushi restaurant, a tiny place near the fish market that, he says, Tsukiji employees avoid because they prefer to eat anything but fish during their meal breaks. After feasting on sashimi, he weaves through a nearby market area and identifies the shops where, he says, chefs Thomas Keller and Eric Ziebold purchase Asian spices.
 
Nakano’s tour exemplifies the qualities that distinguish Hotel Seiyo Ginza, a 77-room hotel employing a staff that helps guests discover the lesser-known pleasures of Tokyo. The Japanese word “Seiyo” roughly translates to “Western-style,” and although the staff offers an insider’s perspective of the city, the hotel attracts Japanese and foreign guests by embracing Western culture: The lobby stairway would befit a European palace; the suites feature marble bathrooms and clear shower stalls; the Caesar salad offered by Répertoire, the property’s French restaurant, is prepared tableside by the server; and the thick, fluffy white bread that comes with the room service breakfast is perfectly suited for sopping up the yolk of a precisely cooked four-minute egg. A butler, clad in traditional black tailcoat and gray pants, delivers room service items, unpacks luggage, and attends to any other needs guests have.

Nakano introduced 24-hour butler service, the first of its kind in Tokyo, shortly after he arrived at the hotel in 2000. He believes that amenities such as these will help the 18-year-old hotel, which is run by the Dallas-based Rosewood group, remain a standout among the city’s existing and future hotels. (See “2006 Private Preview: Mandarin Oriental Tokyo,” on page 129.) “If we lose even 1 percent [of our bookings],” he says, “then we can only blame ourselves.”

Hotel Seiyo Ginza, +81.33.535.1111, www.rosewoodhotels.com

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