The Vanishing World of the Hotel Okura

Think of Tokyo in the Sixties and you’ll probably think of the 1964 Olympics, the Olympic Stadium near Yoyogi Park, the newly developed Shinkansen (bullet trains), the film version of You Only Live Twice, and … the Hotel Okura.
First opened on May 20th 1962, the Hotel Okura has been a fixed point of Tokyo society through the Oil Shock, the Bubble Economy, the turn-of-the-millennium celebrations, the Lost Decade, and the current Abe Administration. It has hosted Presidents and world leaders and held meetings that decided the fate of entire societies. It was mentioned in the opening chapters of Ian Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice as the hotel where James Bond stayed when he arrived in Tokyo and met the hard-drinking Dikki Henderson. The iconic design of the main building, combining Modernism with aspects from Japan’s two-thousand-year history, has remained unchanged since 1962.
But now … that’s going to change.
At the end of August 2015, the Hotel Okura Main Building and South Wing will close and commence a program of rebuilding, which will result in a new 35-floor tower of steel and glass opening in 2019 – in time for the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.
Earlier this month, I went to the Hotel Okura with my camera to capture the atmosphere – before it vanishes forever.
This is the main building, as seen from Kamiyacho station.

The iconic South Wing lobby (actually on the hotel’s 5th floor) seen from within, and also from the Mezzanine, with the focal points being the hexagonal Okura Lanterns (inspired by glass beads discovered in burial mounds from the Kofun Period, AD 250-552) and the orchid-motif wallpaper.

The South Wing lobby reception area.

The poppy-leaf motif of the window blinds and the ‘bamboo’ paper screens. In the evening, the light from outside illuminates the delicate bamboo design that is invisible during the day.

The ceiling of the Banquet Hall Lobby, on the first floor.

The collage design of the Banquet Hall Lobby murals, on the first floor, inspired by the emblems found in Uesugi Shrine, Yamagata prefecture.

Also on the first floor is the Terrace Garden restaurant and a corridor of shops that looks as if they haven’t changed much since the Sixties. The oldest shop in this arcade is the Tani Suit Company, a gentleman’s outfitters. Suit you sir!

Take heart! When the hotel re-opens in 2019, it will save many of these design elements, and incorporate them into new meeting halls and banquet rooms. Although the management are ruled by financial concerns, they are not complete idiots.
Nevertheless, you have one month to see the real thing, so why not? Most of us believe that the past cannot be revisited … but the Hotel Okura will prove you wrong.


About J P Catton

Speculative storytelling and skewed fiction: the blog and website of author John Paul Catton.
This entry was posted in Art & Design, Japan, Modernism. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Vanishing World of the Hotel Okura

  1. Norman Munroe says:

    Great piece, John!

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