Hotel New Nishino is a historic mainstay of the downtown area of Kagoshima City, Tenmonkan. Located just a stone’s throw away from the main nightlife area of the city, New Nishino has been connecting locals and travellers for generations. This time we chat with 4th generation owner Nishino Yukiko to find out about her personal journey, the difficulties of running a family business, how she has started to make changes to this landmark downtown Kagoshima hotel.
Growing up in a Local Kagoshima Hotel
Yukiko grew up close to the hotel and remembers vividly the cultural atmosphere of Tenmonkan at the time. She says, “When I was a kid I lived about 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel. Back then there were plenty of shops in the neighbourhood that had been there for generations. There were lots of cinemas all along the road in front of the hotel I remember it was a really cultural kind of place”.
As times have changed, so has Tenmonkan, and many of the old family businesses that once lined the streets have moved on. However Yukiko is positive about the future of the area, saying “The long-term residents in the area are slowly starting to disappear but there are still people from back in the day who have stayed and want to do some good for Tenmonkan. People are doing all kinds of things to try and improve the area and Kagoshima City in general”.
Yukiko went overseas to study in the UK and noticed that hardly anyone had even heard of Kagoshima. She recalls, “I was in Kagoshima until Junior College, then I went to the UK, mainly for language school, but I was there for 3 years. Most people probably know Tokyo or Osaka, but very few people have heard of Kagoshima. The easiest way to explain is showing on the map it’s right in the south of Japan.”
With a strong desire to promote her hometown, Yukiko started a job in international relations. “When I came back to Kagoshima I wanted to do a job where English would be useful, so started working for an International Relations company. We published a magazine for language teachers and exchange students living in Kagoshima. Since we made a magazine about Kagoshima every month I had to find out a lot of things on my own. Around then there were a lot of people in Kagoshima who found English a bit intimidating, so I would go take pictures and write articles. I did that for about 13 years I think”.
Taking over a Kagoshima Hotel Business
After 13 years in international relations, Yukiko saw it was time to start thinking about the family business, and began working in the hotel. After taking the reins and becoming the 4th generation Nishino to run the historic hotel, she started to make changes to update the image of the property. She says, “The image of Hotel New Nishino was very male oriented because the sauna and onsen used to be men only. From when I took over it has changed little by little. I’m personally really into art and also, collaboration with other people as well. Maybe it’s kind of a small detail, but I made changes to the design of the rooms, the style of the lobby, to bring out more warmth and add a feminine touch”.
However it wasn’t always easy to initiate change, “I really understood how hard it is to keep things going, running a hotel can’t be done alone, and there are lots of staff who have to work together. Hotels open 365 days a year 24 hours a day and everyone cooperating and being on the same page is hard to achieve. I understood how difficult it is to bring everyone together with a common goal”.
Deeply Local Experiences in Kagoshima City
Being a local family owned hotel has advantages due to the deep connections formed over generations with other businesses in the area. Yukiko says, “Different to a big chain hotel, we have local history, so lots of local people visit us, our staff have also been with us for many years, so guests can feel welcomed and safe. I really want our hotel to be a home away from home”.
Food forms a huge part of a visit to any city – especially one with a rich culinary culture like Kagoshima. Hotel New Nishino has been partnering with local restaurants for years, and the staff know all of the best spots to grab a drink or a bite to eat in the Tenmonkan area. Yukiko says, “Since we have really deep connections around here we can introduce the best places. We listen to the guests’ needs and make suggestions, so in that way we have been able to introduce a lot of people to the local community”.
Fish Market Tours
Since 2011, Yukiko has even been organizing tours of the local fish market to show visitors a side of the city that isn’t even usually seen by its residents. Yukiko says, “This was set up as a project with other local Kagoshima hotel owners. The market itself is only about 20 minutes’ walk from the hotel. We take people to see the auctions, and look at the fish and explain what’s happening as we walk around. It’s a place we don’t often get to see”.
After an early start at 6:30 am, the tour of the fish market starts at 7:00 am. After the tour finishes the participants get to sample some of the freshest fish in Japan, right off the fishermen’s boats.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing however, and Yukiko recalls some early teething issues. “At first we got help from the Fisheries Cooperative and discussed how to run the tour, but some people at the market didn’t want tourists to come. We talked to them, made progress, and have been running the tours for over 10 years. Now everyone is very cooperative and as we started to get visitors from overseas the people at the market started asking us ‘which country is coming today?’ Chatting to the visitors that took part in the tour, I think their image of Kagoshima was really good – very friendly. They were really happy to be able to eat fresh fish there as well”.