I read with interest “A Room with no View” by Henry Scott Stokes (March 2006 issue) and Anthony Fensom’s comment (letter to the editor, May 2006 issue). This is a piece I wrote two years ago and is based on the minutes of the meetings concerning the club at the time, as well as the notes of the meetings we had with Mitsubishi Real Estate.
On February 2, 1976, the FCCJ moved to the 20th floor of the Yurakucho Denki Building. It’s a date worth remembering because it gave the Club a new lease on life, gave us surroundings grander than we’d ever imagined, and cost us nothing. The move, the fourth in the Club’s history, was set in motion by a sequence of events over which we had no control. For over 17 years, we had been comfortably ensconced in the Chiyoda Annex behind the Meiji Life Insurance Building. Meiji wanted the Chiyoda Annex for an extension and Mitsubishi was interested in a property owned by Meiji elsewhere. A swap had been arranged. Persuading the Annex’s tenants to move was relatively easy.
The club dismissed MRE’s first offer out of hand. It was to move to the Time-Life Building in Otemachi, too far away and dead at night. That, combined with the building’s run-down condition hardly encouraged the level of usage necessary to keep us solvent. The second offer was the first floor and part
of the basement of the Mitsubishi-Shoji Annex Two (behind the NYK Building). But who wanted a club in the basement? The final offer was the 20th floor and part of the 19th floor of the Denki Building, the newest and tallest of MRE’s structures. But we knew our rights as tenants, and many members insisted on staying put.
It didn’t help that we learned of the plan only accidentally. We had been struggling financially, and had just borrowed another ¥74 million to replace our outdated kitchen. But the Club needed sprucing up to help offset the growing disadvantage of a location whose deserted evening streets and inconvenient access were isolating us from the life of the city. The first payment of ¥18 million for the new kitchen had been made, at which point it belatedly occurred to the Club’s Board that it would be a good idea to get an assurance from MRE that we could remain where we were at least until the ¥74 million was amortized.
They hadn’t told us about the planned property swap, and we were not happy. “Tell them we’ll stay where we are,” was the initial reaction at a general membership meeting when the news was first announced. But further work on the new kitchen was put on hold, and everyone worried what would happen.
Space in the rest of the building had been snapped up, but the top floor was special, and MRE was saving it for a prestigious tenant. A club in the sky was something we hadn’t thought of, but at least the Denki building was in the most central, most convenient location of all.
We agreed to have a look. But the Club had always had a street-level entrance, and several members led by Karl Bachmeyer wanted to keep it that way. “Who wants to be isolated on the 20th floor,” they asked. Sam Jones said his acrophobia would keep him away (it didn’t). Someone complained he suffered from vertigo.
Al Cullison, our President, worried that the road in front was too narrow to park his car. Cullison and his old MG were inseparable. Karel von Wolferen cast his eye around the deceptive pillar-free expanse and declared the ceiling was lower than the Chiyoda Annex. A tape measure was produced, heights were compared and found to be the same.
Of more fundamental concern was that moving to such grand surroundings would require a larger membership and dilute the Club’s professional character. Rising costs had already made it necessary to expand membership outside the journalistic profession.
In the postwar years when there were only newsmen, costs were low, the dollar 360:1, and the munificence of the U.S. Army unlimited. When the occupation ended, we found ourselves the recipients of huge supplies of leftover military liquor, which kept us going for years. The final dust-covered remnants were disposed of by auction. But times had changed—though not the lifestyle to which we had become accustomed. Cullison named Bill Shin, First Vice President, and myself, the Second Vice President, as negotiators for the Club.
Club members argued the pros and cons ad infinitum. Discussion at meetings was lively and unrestrained in the best traditions of the Club. Until, finally, on October 13, 1975, Pierre Brisard of Agence France Presse thought it time to table a motion, authorizing the Board to open talks for the Denki Building, but under our own terms, the outlines of which had begun to take shape in the previous weeks in informal talks between MRE and the Club’s negotiators. The motion was carried 66 to 11. MRE Managing Director Yamagata was visibly relieved.
Bill who had a background in hotel management, was a tough bargainer. He was the stick, I was the carrot. But it should be said that the final agreement was due as much to the generosity of our “dues ex machina” as to our strong bargaining position. This is what the Club demanded:
At least the same floor space as our current premises (409 tsubo). The 20th floor of the Denki Building was 343.04 tsubo, space still uncommitted on the 19th floor was 54.79 tsubo. Total 397.83 tsubo. MRE agreed to make up more than the difference with 40 tsubo on the second floor of the Hibiya Park Building next door, which we accepted on the condition that we be given priority in exchanging it for space on the 19th floor whenever it became available (which happened several years later, but in the meantime the Hibiya space was used for lockers and overnight facilities for staff, and a billiard room).
No increase in rent or deposit, with future rent increases scaled at the same percentage as the past. The rent finally agreed on was, in fact, slightly less than we’d been paying, or roughly one-fifth of the going per-tsubo rate in the brand new building. Refund of the Club’s initial ¥18 million kitchen outlay, and transfer and installation of equipment already ordered in the new premises.
MRE to present us with a ready-tomove-in club, designed and furnished to
our specifications, with compensation for income loss during the transition. Adequate parking. Approval for roadside parking was obtained from Marunouchi Police for up to five cars on the building’s west side. In an added sweetener MRE agreed to a permanent 50 percent discount on basement parking for all Club members and visitors.
Unfettered by the structural limitations of an old building, the open space of Denki Building’s top floor made a far more efficient layout possible. In the old Chiyoda Annex our “work room” consisted of three typewriters in the corner of an over-crammed library. The new floor plan, drafted by Mitsubishi’s interior design subsidiary, had a workroom for 12 typewriters. The library and reading area were larger. A more spacious dining room allowed for bigger luncheons and press conferences. Bar capacity would be almost doubled. And there was the 360-degree view. The distance of the offices of associate members from Yurakucho were checked, and their opinions sought. All found the location most convenient.
Once work was begun, no detail was too small. The library floor was reinforced to take the weight of the book stacks. The kitchen floor was raised to make grooves for drainage. The corridor running the length of the floor was widened for a foyer. The elevator on the west side was kept working overnight non-stop to the 20th floor to allow access to working newsmen.
Everyone was happy. On the appointed day, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan plaque was removed ceremoniously from the Chiyoda Annex doorway and
transported in a parade by members to our new home three blocks away.