Monday, May 26, 2014

INTERVIEW WITH CO-OWNERS OF TORII-KUGURU


Have you already met these guys? Guesthouse Torii-kuguru cannot be such an attractive place without them. I would like to introduce Torii-kuguru’s co-owners, Kenji Akashi (28) and Akio Noguchi (28).

Since Torii-kuguru was born as a renovation project by a developer, owners/managers were also found in its process. When the project team asked Kenji and Akio to become co-owners of a guesthouse, they hardly knew each other. Kenji lived in Okayama and Akio lived in Tottori. As each of them had joined other guesthouse projects, both young men were interested in the offer.

After they accepted the offer, it took only seven months until Torii-kuguru's open. “It was after opening that we actually knew each other little by little. We realized our differences in each meeting, but fortunately one thing in common helped us. It was the fact that we prefer talking ourselves thoroughly until we get agreement,” Akio says.

=KENJI AKASHI=



Q: What do you think about yourself as an owner of a guesthouse?
A: I am not sure that I fit for the position of owner because I am rather assistant type of person than boss type. In mental aspect, it is good for me not to be bossy or stubborn because I want to accept any changes for better result if my sense of taste or choice is not the best.

Q: What do you think is the difference of characteristic between Akio and you in daily operation?
A: Once any issue comes up, Akio goes in the front and I support it behind him. I am comfortable about my position.

Q: What kind of kid were you in your childhood?
A: I was, and I am still shy. When I entered private junior high school, I was separated from all of friends in my public school district. It was hard for me to make new friends from scraï½”ch. It was really tough time.

Q: How did you learn English?
A: I took English classes in junior high, high school and university, but I am not good at listening. I would appreciate it if you could talk to me slowly ;-)

Q: Did you find anything about yourself after you started Torii-kuguru?
A: I was surprised that so many old friends still remembered me and came by. I used to be a person who visits others, so I am glad that I finally became a host to welcome others.

Q: Tell me about a guest who you were interested in.
A: One middle aged man who likes public bathes (SENTO) came here to stay without reservation. He told me that he did not intend to stay in Okayama but he changed his mind after he enjoyed an old public bath “Tsuruyu” located near Torii-kuguru. I liked his flexible and relaxed way of trip.

Q: What is your hobby?
A: I see about 150 movies and DVDs a year. My favorite movie is “Manhattan” by Woody Allen. I was moved by Allen’s sad acting. “Au revoir les enfants” by Luis Malle is also good, especially expression of children’s faces. I also like police stories such as  “Columbo” and “Dirty Harry”. I like watching maps, too. I cannot be bored when I see road maps. It is difficult to explain why I like it so much.

Q: What is your favorite food?
A: Shrimp, sushi, grilled ginger pork and udon!

Q: Do you have any place where you want to visit?
A: Route of Santiago De Compostela in Spain. It is the end point of a historic pilgrimage route from France to Spain. One guest was about to visit there and I was so interested in it.

Q: What part of Torii-kuguru do your customers like the most?
A: People often say that they like the cleanness and atmosphere of old shopping mall around this house.

Q: What do you want Torrii-kuguru to become like?
A: I would like Torii-kuguru be the place where something unplanned happens and changes your future a little bit to more fun way. I sometimes see that our guest becomes friends with others and changes his/her plan to go sightseeing together. I am so glad if people enjoy such a fun happening here.

=AKIO NOGUCHI=


Q: Why did you decide to become an owner of Torii-kuguru?
A: I am basically very careful person and do not choose uncertain option. But when I got the offer, I had just finished helping construction work of new guesthouse in Tottori, so I felt like seeing what is going to happen after a guesthouse opens. I felt O.K. to take the offer and move to Okayama because I knew the renovation project members were always behind me.

Q: How did it go after Torii-kuguru opened?
A: I feel like myself an animal which have just been released from a cage of a zoo. I have a lot of freedom and also anxieties. Because I was so busy to do construction work until the morning of the opening day, I could not have time even to imagine what the management is going to be. So, I had to work really hard for it after opening.

Q: What is the attractive point of your guesthouse?
A: I believe that Torii-kuguru keeps open atmosphere to anybody. When guesthouse lovers gather, their mood often become exclusive to people who know about guesthouses well. Because I did not know about guesthouses at all when I started mine, I would like anybody to feel comfortable and welcomed in my place.

Q: What makes your guesthouse different from others?
A: I see my guesthouse from modest point of view. Because Kenji and I became co-owner in a renovation project, we had to start our business soon without much research and preparation. That is why we might have different mentality from people who were eager to have a guesthouse and took so long time to prepare for it. I always doubt myself and make decisions very carefully because I have no experience in this field. It probably takes long time for my business to run well, but I believe that we can create totally different place from other guesthouses by our steady method. I want to use my lack of experience not as my excuse, but as my advantage.

Q: Tell me about your guests from overseas.
A: To be honest, I did not think we could accept foreign guests because I thought that I could not communicate in English. One day, a receptionist of a tourist information center in JR Okayama Station called us and asked if we can accept foreign guests. They don't have another option because we are the only one guesthouse in Okayama City. We said yes, and now about 30% of our guests are non-Japanese. Fortunately, I found that I could communicate them in basic level of English :-) .

Q: What do you think about the merit of staying in your guesthouse?
Actually Okayama itself does not have many sightseeing places such as Kyoto and Tokyo, but you can go any direction from here because Okayama is a cross point of north-south and east-west JR lines in west Japan. If you have JR Rail Pass, it is a good idea to make a base in Okayama. you can feel like “going home” when you come back here.

Q: Tell me about a guest who you were interested in.
A: I would like to say Elod and Philip. They stayed here for two weeks. They graduated from high school in Sweden and came to Japan. I heard that they made money for long time for this trip. They probably planned many things to do and place to go, but they seemed not to be fixated on time. They often just hanged out here until around noon because Philip got up late. In rainy day, they just did laundry and sat back. It was surprising that they already have laid-back lifestyle at their age.

Q: What moment in a day do you like the best in Torii-kuguru?
I love morning time because, especially when we don't have many guests, I can take time to talk with them with morning coffee.

Q: I heard that you buy coffee beans from your friend’s shop in Totttori.
A: Right. I want to use my friends’ products in my business because they have helped me in the same way.

Q: What is your hobby?
A: I love music. One of my favorite artists is Yo La Tengo. In young generations, I like Eiji Mitomi. I often go to music concerts and also play CDs when I am at reception desk. Torii-kuguru has live music shows, too. As I know many great local artists, I would like to give them the opportunity to get them known.

Q: Recently guesthouses are increasing in Japan. What do you think about this trend?
A: For me, guesthouse is just a function to share fun experiences with others. If I find other way to share those experiences, Torii-kuguru or I might change its style.

(May 26, 2014)

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