The Call of the Okura
Well, all right: I first set foot there when I was ten, so the moment I catch sight of the logo of the Okura—an easy chair in profile—I feel drawn back to the place, and a slight unwinding of limbs that says the journey is about to enter an ecstatic pause. I don’t think they’d let one sleep in the hall of the Okura, but the point is one might wish to. To arrive in that vast unimposing wood-panelled space, measured by hanging lamps that mimic the innocence and lightness of paper lanterns and give off a warm glow, is to be revived. A long expanse of windows resembling milky-white screens become transparent a yard short of the floor so that a band of dense green enters your eyes unobtrusively: the Japanese garden is tiny but seems immense. There are few chairs in the hall, placed in circles around low round tables: an invitation to daydream or to converse. It’s sparse, it’s quiet, it’s a 60’s place—modernism happily married to the Japanese version of minimalism. And there is a certain cradling fragrance I associate with old Japan—Hinoki cypress or cedar.
The Okura still conveys an almost impossibly lofty notion of privilege, cloaked in modesty. I couldn’t have explained this when I was ten, but I knew it in my bones and haven’t forgotten. I’d give anything to stay there one more time before it is “redeveloped,” starting in September 2015, under the direction of Yoshio Taniguchi (son of the hotel’s original 1961 designer) and venerated Japanese modernist, Fumihiko Maki.
Some, like Thomas Maier of Bottega Veneta, would prefer to see the Okura treated like a precious landmark to be protected. The lobby is to be preserved, or re-created. The lobby is to be preserved, or re-created.
Gini Alhadeff is a Travel + Leisure contributor.