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Hotel Hosts France’s Chirac

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-09-15

We continue our series on hotels stayed in by world leaders for the Group of Eight Summit. Here we profile the Rizzan Sea-Park which hosted French President Jaques Chirac and Canadian Premier Jean Chretien.

Of all the hotels selected to host the world leaders for the Group of Eight Summit, two had to put up two national leaders under one roof, together with a third delegation. One of these was the Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay, which hosted French President Chirac, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and the US press corps covering the event.

The Rizzan’s Vice President Fujio Yabusaki said he found the negotiation process in preparation for the Summit “a new experience”. Preparations for the three day Summit were made three to four months before the event. Used to dealing with businessmen, Yabusaki said contact with the various embassies in Tokyo was something different.

Yabusaki, who once lived in Chicago for four years, said he is used to the United States negotiating style. “It looks tough but it is easy to understand the objectives being aimed for”. He was less familiar with the ways of the Canadians, whose embassy he visited in Tokyo. “They were very friendly and did not always talk of summit issues.”

As for the French, “there was no human touch”. All negotiations were done by fax, phone and letter. This was partly because of the language barrier, though there were sometimes doubts whether the Frenchmen on the other end of telephone lines understood as little English as they claimed.

The French placed a lot of emphasis on the quality of the food and wine that would be served at the event. They carefully reviewed the hotel’s wine list and were prepared, if it did not pass muster, to import their own wine from France. Yabusaki whose hotel routinely serves $50 and $80 bottles to its diners, was surprised. Happily the Rizzan’s wine list was judged up to French standards and there was no need to make separate beverage arrangements.

The Americans in contrast to the French had no demands to make over food and drink quality. For them price seemed the main determinant. They were a lot more cost conscious than the French.

Yabusaki seemed less interested in the political dimension of the Summit than in observing three distinct cultures at close hand, two of them unfamiliar to him. He noted that the French took a lot of time over their food, and the Americans had no time to eat. The US government laid on breakfast for its press corps but most passed it up. They seemed to prefer breakfasting at the Manza, where Clinton was staying and which was also cheaper.

The Canadian group partyed after the Summit with surprising energy. Hotel staff thought they would be too exhausted after the punishing conference schedule. They were also the only national group to pay for their leaving party, with an allocation of government funds arranged by the Canadian Embassy beforehand. The French were more subdued in their celebrations.

The French were also the only nationality whose president held a press conference exclusively for reporters from the home country. Kensuke Kobayashi helped prepare the hotel staff for the unusual demands of the Summit. He mostly found it a positive experience and said the hotel staff learned a lot from it. But like any logistical exercise it was not 100% perfect.

On the morning of Sunday July 23, the French at the last minute cancelled the use of the briefing room they had reserved and President Chirac, with about 50 French journalists, went to one of the restaurants instead. There they had a short laughter filled conference. It was however not such a laughing matter for the hotel, who were not able to rent out the room at such short notice and were consequently out of pocket.

Another matter on which the hotel and the French government did not see eye to eye was the request for a private elevator for Chirac. This request was refused as impractical.

Aside from these minor differences, the hotel seems to have enjoyed the unusual experience of organizing the schedules of two national leaders and their entourages.

It also appears to have been left with some genuinely warm memories of the two political leaders.

Chretien, is a down-to-earth ex-businessman who has the unusual reputation - for a politician - of speaking his mind honestly. He was the leader who propelled himself on a scooter on the airport tarmac after arriving in Okinawa, instead of inspecting troops or stepping on a red carpet.

He wanted to go jet skiing on his last day on the island but was deterred by Japanese security men. Rizzan staff were surprised to see him leaving the hotel one sweltering day dressed in a jersey which he also returned in. He had been playing ice hockey.

A little known fact about Chirac is that he is a sumo fan. On his way to Okinawa he took a day off to attend the national championships in Nagoya and at the hotel was kept informed of the fortunes of the wrestlers. The “Chirac Cup” has been created in his honor for future bouts.

Chirac who has been to the mainland before, likes Japanese food and sake. Sake will now be served at some official functions in France.

To mark the stay of their famous guests, the suites they stayed in will be renamed. Chretien’s, which was created specially for the Summit by knocking down the walls of three rooms and redesigning the interior, will be The Maple Suite. A name has yet to be thought of for the palatial rooms Chirac occupied.

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