Volunteering and the Big Three

Daniel at How to Japonese spent the past couple of weeks volunteering with All Hands Volunteers's Project Tohoku, and blogging about it too. Start here!

In totally unrelated news, I was finally skimming through my ages-old secondhand copy of Nicholas Coleridge's The Fashion Conspiracy and I came across this:

The Okura [Hotel] in Minato-ku bills itself as the second-best hotel in the world. No indication is given as t the first-best hotel, or whether the Okura has designs on that title. Probably not, since the 'second-best' plaudit has an air of permanence on the hotel's stationery and boxes of matches strategically displayed across the lobby.

A Google search turned up this JETRO report, which is similarly cryptic:

The hotels that have been leading the domestic luxury hotel market are known as the "Big Three." They are the Imperial Hotel, the Hotel Okura, and the Hotel New Otani. The Hotel Okura was once highly appraised by Institutional Investor, a magazine specializing in finance and investment, which ranked it second best hotel.

Huh. So, still not very clear. The Japanese version is clearer:

国内のラグジュアリーホテルマーケットを牽引してきたのは、帝国ホテル、ホテルオークラ、ホテルニューオータニの「御三家」と呼ばれる国内系ホテルである。ホテルオークラは、米国の金融投資専門誌「Institutional Investor」のベストホテルランキングで世界 2 位の座を獲得する高い評価を受けたこともあった。

The hotels that are leading the domestic luxury hotel market are the local hotels known as the "Three Houses": the Imperial Hotel, the Hotel Okura, and the Hotel New Otani. The Hotel Okura was once highly appraised by US finance and investment magazine Institutional Investor, which ranked it second best hotel in the world.

Ah, in the world. We also learn that "Big Three" was an idiomatic translation of go-sanke 御三家, "Three Houses," a term coined in the Edo period referring to three important branches of the Tokugawa family tree.

(The Okura Hotel themselves still mention this second-place ranking in their online history, too.)

Popularity factor: 12


Many of my fellow ALTs went to Tohoku during Golden Week. I went abroad instead. I'm still not exactly sure why. Superficially I was annoyed with them for their stated promise that they would feed the hinansha hot dogs (and it turned out that they also burned those hot dogs, which as you probably know is associated with cancer in Japan, and tried to serve them like that) and set up a Free Hugs booth. Cultural imperialism! Grr!

But soon I realized that it was because nobody in my town volunteered, the government wasn't soliciting volunteers, and none of our bosses seemed to approve of the volunteering idea. The only people volunteering were foreigners and bosozoku. My desire to show my love for Japan was overruled by my desire to fit in. In fact, in light of that evidence, I'm still not sure whether Tohoku needs me to volunteer. But the practical evidence is obvious: everyone is really grateful for the help.


I neglected to mention that my friends also went with All Hands, who provided food, shelter, and all the jobs.


I used to live in a town that billed itself as having the "number three" daibutsu. Not third largest, mind you. Just number three. It went without saying that one is Nara and two is Kamakura, and hey, we're number three.


Thanks for the plug!

I feel like I've heard of all those hotels for some reason or the other, but having read this, I can't remember where I heard them.


Maybe in Institutional Investor? You do get it delivered to your jet, right?

Avery: I had no real I-can-do-anything holidays so avoided any hard choices. I know that some non-bosozoku folks around here went up to volunteer, though. Probably depends a lot on the community.

Carl: Ahem, you seem to be confused about the relative ranking of the Nara and Kamakura Daibutsu. Also you would think that your town would just call it the "number one Chubutsu" and get back on top.

language hat:

Hey, I used to live just a few blocks from the Okura (and the US Embassy, practically next door to it, where my dad worked)! The Embassy housing was in what was then Imai-chō and is now (I believe) Roppongi (2). If I'd only known at the time it was the #2 hotel IN THE WORLD!


Ah, but that accolade came in 1981, so unless you're younger than I thought it wasn't in fact number 2 in the world at the time...

language hat:

No, it was a couple of decades earlier, but I'm sure it was already #2, and its glory simply hadn't been recognized officially.

Tim May:

Hey, Matt, your RSS feed's broken. Apparently by something in "Astonishing" (the last I got was "Books as houses").


language hat:

My money's on "Man returned from desert island tells tale of eating bizarre bird." That's enough to put anybody, let alone RSS, off their feed.


Thanks Tim! It still doesn't pass the validator there but it works in my reader now. Not sure what was breaking it. I'll see if I can get it to pass properly, anyway...

Tim May:

It seems you were successful! Welcome back.

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