JW Marriott to Debut Japanese Property in Time for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Marriott International is planning to debut its first JW Marriott in Japan in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, giving locals and tourists alike the opportunity to say “kon’nichiwa” (Japanese for “hello”) to the luxury brand.

JW Marriott Hotel Nara, which will be located in the Kansai region of Japan, is being built in partnership with Japanese real estate development company Mori Trust Group. The ancient city of Nara is home to many of the country’s oldest surviving palaces, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

Spaopportunities.com published the following statement from Marriott CEO and President Arne Sorenson about the business move. “Introducing the JW Marriott brand to the country, and in particular to the historic and culturally rich city of Nara, is an exciting milestone, and we very much look forward to working closely with Mori Trust Group on the project.”

The Japan Times reports that the cost of acquiring the land to build the seven-story, 150-guest room hotel, will be around $4.2 million. Business leaders hope the project will help propel tourism in the region.

“The development of accommodation facilities (in Nara) has been slow, but once the high-ranked hotel is built, visitors will be able to enjoy the culture of Nara,” Nara Gov. Shogo Arai told The Japan Times. It is anticipated that a convention center, multipurpose outdoor park, bus terminal and other facilities will also be built.

No Hotel Details Yet

Exact details about the new hotel have been yet been released, but Japan has a history of opening attention-grabbing properties. Last year Henn-na Hotel (Japanese for “strange hotel”) opened in Huis Ten Bosch, a theme park in Sasebo, Nagasaki that recreates the Netherlands. It is run primarily by robots that have humanoid features and can interact with guests.

Respecting Cultural Differences

The JW Marriot brand is known for its impressive spas.  It has not yet been disclosed whether the JW Marriott Hotel Nara will include a spa. If it does, it will have to address the controversial issue of offering spa services to foreigners with tattoos.

According to Japan Today, a survey by the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) found that 56% of Japanese hotels and ryokans (traditional inns) ban visitors with tattoos from bathing facilities.

The survey asked 3,768 hotel and ryokan owners in Japan if they  would accept someone with tattoos into their public bathing facilities if the designs were covered with stickers. Only 13 percent of the 581 survey respondents said they would allow guests with tattoos into onsens (natural hot springs that can be found throughout Japan) if their tattoos were concealed.

With the 2020 Olympics on the horizon and tourism in general on the rise in Japan, JTA officials say it is important for local businesses to demonstrate tolerance for other cultures. Although one-third of foreign tourists cite onsens as a key reason for visiting Japan, JTA reports that visitors are routinely denied admittance to onsens if they are inked. Nearly half of onsen operators report that other guests have complained about tattooed individuals using the bathing facilities.

In a case that made international headlines in 2013, a Maori woman was barred from a public bath in Hokkaido because of her traditional face tattoos. An official from the public bath said the decision had been made to avoid making other guests uncomfortable. In another case, Japan Daily Press reported that the mayor of Osaka caused an uproar when he required city employees to document their tattoos.

The prejudice against those with tattoos in Japan stems largely from the fact that tattoos are associated with yakuza (organized Japanese crime syndicates.) Many everyday citizens are unaware of how acceptable and even popular tattoos have become with the general public in other cultures around the world. Yet intolerance for individuals with tattoos is expressed openly throughout the country. According to Japan Daily Press, clearly labeled signs are prominently displayed at fitness gyms, public swimming pools and onsens that state anyone with irezumi (Japanese for “tattoo”) are refused entry.

2020 Tokyo Olympics

The 2020 Olympics will be held in Tokyo, July 24 through August 9, 2020. Competitions will take place in 31 different sports, including archery, basketball, gymnastics and table tennis. Throughout the area, new venues are being built and existing venues are being spruced up in preparation for the festivities.

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