During my last road trip, I stayed in a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho motel called Japan House Suites. I didn’t know much about it, but it offered the best price in a relatively expensive town and had solid reviews. For one night on the road, that was enough. I booked online before leaving home.
Crossing Montana left a lot of time to wonder about Japan House Suites. Of course, the name conjured up images of Japanese culture and influence. But this was my third visit to Coeur D’Alene, and although I remembered an interesting mix of bikers and New Age enthusiasts, I didn’t recall the town having a significant Japanese community.
Japan House Suites turned out to be a great stop. The rooms were large and clean, and it was an easy walk downtown to Lake Coeur d’Alene. There was a yummy complimentary breakfast made to order and served in a pleasant dining area. The place was a little dated, but quiet and comfortable, just what I needed after two long-haul driving days. But except for a slightly stylized sign out in the parking lot, the areas of Japan House Suites I saw weren’t even remotely evocative of Japan. Basically, Japan House Suites was an American roadside motel.
Fortunately, Japan House Suites had another perk: a friendly, conversational owner. Because I had to ask.
My host explained that after many travels (both outer and inner), he had wanted to bring some of his experiences to Coeur d’Alene. With that in mind, Japan House Suites had been conceived as a serene space where travelers could de-stress and re-center. The motel would offer shiatsu massage–the reason for the name–in a tranquil setting enhanced by Japanese design.
Unfortunately, the local licensing board focused less on the word “shiatsu” and more on the word “massage.” If Japan House Suites wanted to keep the massage part of their plan, they would be licensed as a massage parlor, not a motel. That would require a whole different set of regs, including keeping detailed records for each client that would far exceed the privacy expectations of the average motel guest. Practically speaking, Japan House Suites could be a motel or it could offer massages. It could not do both.
But everything had already been printed. Signs, stationery, receipts, cards … if it was connected to the business, the name “Japan House Suites” was emblazoned across it. Rather than lose the investment, the owners kept the name, even though their original concept had been put on hold.
Japan House Suites stayed on my mind as I continued west. Sure, the shiatsu centerpiece of the plan was gone, and I totally understood the inability to walk away from the print investment. But why not just add more Japanese touches to the rooms and common spaces? If the name was here to stay, wasn’t it worth doing whatever was necessary to make it fit?
I have no idea what the owners of Japan House Suites think. (As I said before, road trips leave a lot of time for idle musing, and I am already the queen of idle musing.) For them, maybe the shiatsu thing was just a business plan that fizzled. But I like to think that their original vision was rooted in a different place, that Japan House Suites embodied a dream worth keeping. If so, ixnay on bending that dream to fit a current need. Some dreams are promises that we make to ourselves, and diluting their essence with half-hearted compromise ruins their chances of ever coming true. Sometimes it’s better to wait.
If I ever pass through Coeur d’Alene again, I’ll peek in on Japan House Suites. After all, my host already shared the kernel of the dream with me: with or without shiatsu, the place was a welcome pause in a busy world.