A Last Glimpse Inside the Okura, Tokyo’s Modernist Masterpiece Hotel

In late August, one of Tokyo’s grand­est hotels, Hotel Oku­ra closed its doors and its main wing will be demol­ished to make way for a $980 mil­lion recon­struc­tion. The new hotel will open in 2019.

The move was met with howls of protest around the world. The orig­i­nal hotel was hailed as a mod­ernist trea­sure. “It’s a mas­ter­piece,” lament­ed not­ed archi­tec­ture writer Hiroshi Mat­suku­ma. “It has a cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal val­ue that can nev­er be repro­duced again.”

The hotel first opened its doors in 1962 at a piv­otal time in Japan­ese his­to­ry. Eager to dis­tance itself from its mil­i­taris­tic past, the coun­try put on a new inter­na­tion­al­ist face to the world. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were meant to be a sort of com­ing out par­ty for a new, thor­ough­ly mod­ern nation. The Hotel Oku­ra was designed in this same opti­mistic spir­it.

Archi­tect Yoshio Taniguchi said that he intend­ed the hotel to be crisply mod­ern though imbued with “a firm dig­ni­ty imper­vi­ous to fleet­ing fash­ion.” Five decades lat­er, the hotel’s inte­ri­ors still seem strik­ing, ele­gant and won­der­ful­ly atmos­pher­ic. Taniguchi recruit­ed mas­ter arti­sans Hideo Kosa­ka, Shiko Munaka­ta and Ken­kichi Tomi­mo­to to craft the hotel’s look. The hotel’s murals, fur­ni­ture, exte­ri­or fac­ing, even the light fix­tures, all draw upon ele­ments of tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese design, re-imag­ined for the jet age.

“It’s the light­ing fix­tures, the fur­ni­ture. What’s excit­ing is that you see this con­cept of Japan­ese design his­to­ry play out across the lob­by,” said Don Choi, pro­fes­sor of archi­tec­ture at Cal Poly San Luis Obis­po. “You would­n’t see that in Paris or New York. That atten­tion to detail makes it a com­plete work of art.”

Hotel Oku­ra has played host to sev­er­al US Pres­i­dents, from Ford to Oba­ma, along with oth­er inter­na­tion­al lumi­nar­ies from the Dalai Lama to Mikhail Gor­bachev. Even James Bond spent the night there in You Only Live Twice. Haru­ki Muraka­mi lat­er fea­tured the place promi­nent­ly in his beloved tome 1Q84.

For 50 years, the hotel has con­tin­ued to oper­ate large­ly unchanged. Even the menu for the hotel’s restau­rant, the Orchid Room, serves up the same fare they had back in 1964 — from crepes suzette to wiener schnitzel. The place was the Kennedy era dipped in amber. For the 21st cen­tu­ry vis­i­tor, that was no doubt much of its charm.

Mon­o­cle Mag­a­zine has pro­duced a love­ly video ele­gy to the hotel, which you can watch above.

Via Devour

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hōshi: A Short Film on the 1300-Year-Old Hotel Run by the Same Fam­i­ly for 46 Gen­er­a­tions

The His­to­ry of West­ern Archi­tec­ture: From Ancient Greece to Roco­co (A Free Online Course)

The Mod­ernist Gas Sta­tions of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe

A Pho­to­graph­ic Tour of Haru­ki Murakami’s Tokyo, Where Dream, Mem­o­ry, and Real­i­ty Meet

Take a 360° Vir­tu­al Tour of Tal­iesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Per­son­al Home & Stu­dio

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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