With the final flourishes of paintbrush, needle, and thread, textile artist Mariko Kobayashi wrapped up the guest room turned artwork “En” (room 3101) last summer. The once-drab room in the Park Hotel Tokyo now bursts with color: A flowering tree blooms above the headboard, a bird soars across the ceiling, forest creatures scamper along the walls. Connecting them all is a bright red cord, the en, which the Japanese believe links all living beings. The site-specific installation is the last of 31 redesigned guest rooms, all on the 31st floor of the hotel, a grand experiment that has breathed new life into a formerly foundering property.
“We knew we had to do something,” says hotel manager and project curator Atsushi Ono, who explains that Japan’s financial malaise and fierce hospitality industry competition had the then-10-year-old hotel struggling for overseas bookings. “The economic shock really affected our foreign guests. I thought art might be a way to express Japanese culture and attract foreign guests.”
Over the course of five years, Ono commissioned artists from across Japan to reinvigorate a selection of guest rooms, with the simple instruction that he or she “must express the theme of Japanese aesthetics.” Yuki Ninagawa’s serene floral paintings enliven the “Japanese Angel” room (3103), while Shiki Taira’s “Mount Fuji” room (3110) features a bright red torii gate–inspired entryway and is covered in Japanese deities, as well as the iconic mountain. Other rooms feature samurai swords and cherry blossoms, dazzling geishas and hulking sumo wrestlers. The program has proven successful for the hotel and artists alike. “In some cases, our guests have contacted the artist after their stay to commission more work,” Ono says.
While only the rooms on the 31st floor have been redesigned thus far, Ono hopes the project will mark the beginning of something bigger. “If it were up to me,” he says, “I’d redecorate every one of the hotel’s 270 rooms.”