“A sense of balance is important”

Constancy and change

Takahiro Sueyoshi, general manager of The Capitol Hotel Tokyu

Text by Gavin Blair  /  Photos by Benjamin Parks

The predecessor to today’s The Capitol Hotel Tokyu, the Tokyo Hilton, was home to The Beatles in 1966, during their only trip to Japan to play a series of concerts at the Nippon Budokan. The Hilton had opened in 1963 — a year before the Tokyo Olympics — and the Fab Four found themselves virtual prisoners in the hotel. They were hemmed in by a massive security operation to keep at bay hysterical fans and nationalists outraged by the musicians’ defiling of the Budokan, a spiritual home for Japanese martial arts. A photobook commemorating 50 years since The Beatles’ visit was released last year, with most of the pictures unsurprisingly taken inside the hotel. Some of the pictures, shot by photographer Shimpei Asai, adorn the walls of luxury suites at the Capitol today.

Tokyu took over the hotel from Hilton in 1984, demolishing it two decades later and opening a completely rebuilt The Capitol Hotel Tokyu on the same spot in 2010. As Tokyo moves towards hosting its second Olympics, the hotel’s general manager since April, Takahiro Sueyoshi, is determined to preserve the traditions of what he describes as “Japan’s first global-style hotel”, while steering it forward into the future.

This approach is encapsulated in the term fueki-ryuko, which expresses simultaneous constancy and change. The expression was popularised by Edo period haiku master Matsuo Basho, who changed the traditional Japanese poetry form while maintaining its traditions, explains Sueyoshi.

All the hotel’s 251 Western-style rooms incorporate Japanese design sensibilities, including subdued colouring, low tables and uncluttered interiors. Many of the rooms offer views of the Diet building, the Imperial Palace and nearby Hie Shrine. The Shinto shrine is known as a ‘power spot’ and is reputed to deliver special energy to visitors to help them in finding love, attaining success in their careers and warding off evil. On a more practical note, located above Tameike-sanno and Kokkaigijido-mae stations, the hotel is directly connected to four metro lines, giving easy access to much of the capital.

The lobby was designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma, who is also responsible for the new Olympic stadium. Various lounges and eateries, including the main Japanese restaurant — with specialist chefs for tempura, sushi and teppanyaki — are all located on the lower levels. The 14th and 15th floors are home to a pool, spa, fitness club and barber, while the guest rooms sit on the upper floors.

Currently around 70% of guests are from overseas, with Americans making up the largest proportion, followed by Chinese and then Europeans. Approximately 30% of guests now book via online sites such as TripAdvisor and Booking.com — a growing, industry-wide trend.

And with the numbers of foreign guests set to rise further as the Olympics approach, Sueyoshi believes that the hotel must become even more internationalised. The Capitol’s staff already includes Americans, Vietnamese, French and Chinese, and the hotel supports employees’ language study.

“We need to know more about foreign cultures,” says Sueyoshi. “It is a very wide world and there are many different kinds of people on this planet.”

The Comfort Members Program is the Tokyu loyalty scheme that delivers points, discounts, upgrades and other benefits that can be earned and used across the 44-hotel chain. The programme currently has around 600,000 members, about one third of whom are active, according to Sueyoshi.

The hotel also runs a Green Coin Program, whereby the hotel donates to environmental activities when guests bring their own toothbrushes, towels or other amenities. The programme began 15 years ago and 5–7% of guests participate, a rate that Sueyoshi says he would like to raise through better communication of its workings.

Sueyoshi joined the Tokyu Group — a conglomerate of more than 200 companies centred on the Tokyu Corporation train operator — 32 years ago. Beginning his career as a staff member at Tokyo’s Meguro Station, Sueyoshi went on to do a short stint as a train conductor. He soon moved into the management of the Group’s sports and swimming clubs, and then into its hotel business 20 years ago. He eventually headed the international business of the Pan Pacific Hotels chain — which Tokyu sold in 2007 to a Singapore-based company — after overseeing the opening of the Pan Pacific Hotel Yokohama in 1997.

Following a two-year spell as vice-president of the Mauna Lani Resort hotel on Hawaii’s Big Island, Sueyoshi returned to Japan and entered the Tokyu Hotels division in 2005. He managed Tokyu hotels in Hakata and Shibuya, before serving as executive director and marketing director for Tokyu Hotels, and this year took over as general manager of the Capitol.

Sueyoshi says the essentials of managing a hotel remain the same whatever the location or level of service offered. He likens the role to a ship’s captain.

“It’s very lonely, and with a lot of pressure,” he says with a laugh. “I have to take care of the guests, the staff and the owners. But I really enjoy it.”

He says the most important attributes for a successful manager are balance and a hard-to-define quality encapsulated in the Japanese term kansei, which roughly translates as sensitivity or sensibility. According to Sueyoshi, this is crucial for everything from appreciating aesthetics to conversing with guests about their experiences. He endeavours to refine his kansei by visiting museums and art galleries when he isn’t working.

“A sense of balance is important because I have to make a lot of decisions,” he says. “I just have to listen to my inner voice.” 

The hotel’s 251 Western-style rooms incorporate Japanese design sensibilities