On August 3, 1870 (Meiji 3), the Kobe Oriental Hotel in Kobe for the first time advertises in the Hiogo News, a local English-language newspaper for foreign settlers. This was only two years after the opening of Kobe Port. The Oriental would soon grow into the face of Kobe and became one of the better known hotels in Asia, legendary for its food.
The hotel didn’t attract only foreigners visiting Kobe, but also well-to-do Japanese who used the hotel as a high-class meeting place. In author Junichiro Tanizaki‘s masterpiece The Makioka Sisters (細雪, Sasameyuki), the Makioka family often went to the Oriental on special occasions.
It appears that the first proprietor of the hotel was former Dutch naval physician Gerardus van der Vlies. The first documented owner was the Frenchman Louis Begeux, who was a magician in the kitchen. Even Rudyard Kipling, who stayed at the hotel in 1889 (Meiji 22), praised the food in writing.
The Oriental Hotel was listed in the Japan Directory of 1879 (Meiji 12). This was owned by Van der Vlies & Co. and based at number 79. The Dutchman G. van der Vlies is listed on this address as early as 1872 (Meiji 5), but there is no mention of any hotel. In 1880 (Meiji 13), Club Concordia, a famous German social club, is listed on this address and the Oriental Hotel disappears from the directories until 1888 (Meiji 21).
In 1897 (Meiji 30), the hotel was bought by several local businessmen, among which Arthur Hasketh Groom, the person who in 1903 built Japan’s very first golf course on Mt. Rokko. The hotel was made into a limited company and the son of Begeux was hired as a manager.
Business went well and in 1907 (Meiji 40) the Oriental Hotel moved to a brand new building on number 6, right on the popular Bund and with a beautiful view of the bay.
In 1917 (Taisho 6), the hotel was bought by the large shipping line Toyo Kisen. The hotel was completely refurbished and started a new life similar to today’s hotel chains run by airlines. Just nine years later Toyo Kisen sold the hotel to a group of Japanese businessmen who established Oriental Hotel Ltd.
The hotel burnt down during WWII, but was soon rebuilt. It was used by the occupation forces before a new building was opened at number 64 on February 19, 1949 (Showa 24).
Unfortunately, the hotel was so severely damaged in the 1995 quake that it could not be rebuild. Some 10 years later it was torn down, ending more than a century of history featuring people like authors Rudjard Kipling and Junichiro Tanizaki, activist Helen Keller, actress Marilyn Monroe, baseball giant Joe DiMaggio and countless others.
A new Oriental Hotel was opened in Kobe on March 3, 2010 (Heisei 22).
See also blog entry.