NISHIYAMA ONSEN KEIUNKAN

Ari Meisel
3 min readFeb 24, 2022

NISHIYAMA ONSEN KEIUNKAN — Founded 704

慶雲館

Riddle me this.

Why would anyone open a hotel in the least populated town in Japan? And how could this same hotel continue to operate successfully since 705 AD?

Well, it all began with a man named Masuto and a cloud that appeared in the evening sky called a “Keiun”. Its appearance was widely considered to be a good omen.

One evening while hunting, Masato accidentally discovered hot water spouting from between the rocks when he approached the banks of the river Yukawa. Above his head, a Keiun cloud. After taking to the warm waters he felt better than he had in years.

So Masato cleared a path to the spring through the steep mountain below and built a hot water tub to mark the spot. Word of its healing powers traveled quickly. Well as quickly as word could travel in 700 AD. There were no actual medicines back then, so people suffering from illness were desperate to visit the hot springs to “take the cure”.

In 758 the 46th Emperor Koken came to Keiunkan all the way from Kyoto to cure a mysterious ailment. He was completely recovered in 20 days, cementing the popularity and restorative qualities of the hot springs.

An inn was built soon thereafter. It was important to the townspeople that it blend in with the scenery, keeping its secretive nature at the forefront.

Fifty-two generations of family innkeepers have kept Keiunkan going since then. Staff positions are not posted on a job board but are passed from grandparent to parent to child over and over again. The closed-loop has greeted one cohesive hospitality unit and its collective wisdom is shared only with those within the group.

Early in the 2000s, a new spring was discovered on the property and its mineral composition was identical to the original. Its discovery secured in the minds of the patrons and innkeepers that the healing waters of Keiunkan will be a never-ending source of restoration and income for another 1400 years.

Sometimes you don’t have to have a great idea. You don’t have to have a great product or service. Maybe all you can offer is something that facilitates people getting that great product or service. Like a hotel near the Eiffel Tower or a restaurant at the top of a ski resort. The location is the USP. You don’t even have to have great food or service.

The business just needs to be exclusive and convenient for the thing that people are going to do anyway. This hotel is a great example of that. Seizing an opportunity somewhere in some sector in some space, where you’re pretty certain there will be no competition at all and delivering a consistent experience year in and year out.

It reminds me of a joke. So there’s a bunch of kids, about 100 years ago, sitting on a stoop. They’re talking about what they want to be when they grow up. One kid says, I’m gonna be a baseball player. The next kid says I’m gonna be a policeman. The next one says, I’m gonna be a lawyer and it gets to the last kid and they said, Barney, what are you gonna be? He says I’m gonna be a tailor. They said, why a tailor? Barney said, well, you’re all gonna need clothes.

Mineral composition of the waters of Keiunkan

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Ari Meisel

Founder — Less Doing /The Replaceable Founder/ Overwhelmologist/Serial Entrepreneur / Ironman / Author / Inventor