Take One Last Look at Tokyo's Iconic Hotel Okura Before It's Gone
Tokyo’s Hotel Okura is no ordinary hotel, and for more than five decades the location has served as a renowned meeting point for international travelers, business people, and world dignitaries. The Okura became synonymous with respect to tradition and Japanese culture—recognized for its service with staff clad in traditional kimonos, tuxedos, and bow ties; its unique amenities including a tea ceremony room; and, perhaps above all, its architecture and design.
Visitors enter the main building and are instantly transported to the atmosphere of 1960s Japan. A connection is often made to the Mad Men-era, as the lobby’s retro design—with its modernist chairs, dimly lit hexagonal-cut pendant lamps, and extremely detailed geometric wooden latticework—has remained primarily untouched since its opening in May 1962.
When it was being built—just before Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympic Games—the hotel’s late founder, Kishichiro Okura, stated that he wanted to “build a hotel exemplifying the artistic genius of our country.”
This is where the story gets sad: the main building is slated for demolition in September 2015. Because life is often one big ironic cycle, its imminent destruction is to make room for a 38-story glass tower in advance of the 2020 Olympic Games. The news brought an outcry of opposition in the artistic communities of Japan and elsewhere around the world. However, not all is lost. The Okura will preserve and utilize the south wing of the hotel complex, which shares some similar elements and is situated across the street from the admired main building.
Prominent figures of design, including fashion designer Tomas Maier, the creative director of Bottega Veneta at the forefront, are collectively fighting against the intended construction plans, and hope to bring them to a halt. The global design magazine Monocle, has started a petition to preserve the space. Additionally, an awareness-raising social media initiative is trending with the hashtag #mymomentatokura.
Just in case the movement is unsuccessful, it seemed prudent to provide a photographic tour for posterity.
The Hotel Okura was forged by a team of Japanese masters. This committee of architects, designers, and fine artists—headed by Yoshiro Taniguchi and Saburo Mizoguchi—created a space that modernized traditional Japanese Wa (harmony) designs and materials.
Hotel Okura is famously recognized for its high level of service.
The Japanese art of flower arrangement, ikebana, can be spotted throughout the property. Mrs. Seiho Okudaira of the Sekiso-Ryu School mastermined many of the Okura's arrangements.
A cloakroom attendant draped in a kimono—one of the traditional Japanese uniforms still worn by the staff.
Another relic of the hotel's storied past: key holders and storage boxes behind the front desk. Prior to using electronic key cards, guests (who the concierge knew by face and name) would drop off their key upon leaving the property.
The Hotel Okura opened in 1962, just before Tokyo’s last Olympics. Seiko, the Japanese watch and electronics company, was known for the accuracy and precision of their timepieces and became the official timekeeper of the Games. This world map and clock, gifted by Seiko, displays time zones of cities from across the globe.
Spotted: the hexahedral patterns of Kirikodama-gata. The shape is inspired by hexahedral gems found in the 3rd to 6th centuries, when they were used in necklaces strung together with crescent jades and beads.
The lobby’s design—with its modernist chairs, dimly lit hexagonal-cut pendant lamps, and geometric wooden latticework—hasn't been touched since its opening in May 1962.
Japanese and international businessmen have conducted meetings in the famed Okura spaces for over five decades.
Kishichiro Okura, the hotel’s late founder, insisted that the lobby, more than anywhere else in the hotel, be a place where guests can relax in quiet surroundings. For that reason, the lobby sits on the fifth floor. Its sunken floors, too, are designed to to shut out noise from the entrance. Every detail, down to the stylized formation of the lacquer tables and chairs, is optimized for tranquility.
The tables and chairs in the lobby are purposely arranged in sets of five, to resemble plum blossoms in full bloom.
This wall in the Orchid Bar is made of a rare stone called Tako Ishi, which is found exclusively at Tako, in the Gunma Prefecture. The lamp is the masterpiece of Toshichi Iwata, a celebrated glass artist in Japan.
The polished counter of the hotel's Orchid Bar, which has a dignified, unmistakably English appeal. The inspiration is drawn from the popular gentlemen’s clubs in London.
Frequent guests and important visitors of the hotel keep their personal collections of rare liquor in cabinets on display at the Orchid Bar, where premium Japanese whiskey is most popular.
A detail shot of the hotel's famed Asanoha-mon pattern. The design is particularly prominent in the lobby, where it complements the translucent, rice-paper doors. These panels are constructed 100 percent by hand, without any adhesives. The Okura plans to repurpose many of the original architectural materials and elements, though these panels are too fragile to stick around in the new building.
Kimono-clad staff walk through the graphic corridors.
Intricate wall paneling in the Heian Room, one of the hotel’s banquet halls. This pattern, Uroko-mon, is meant to look like fish scales.
An exquisite backlit wall serves as a backdrop to a section of club-chair seating in the Orchid Bar.
Looking up at a custom light fixture in a wisteria variation, part of the floral design motif represented throughout the hotel.
The original font is used on all interior signage throughout the hotel.
A section of the Orchid Room, the hotel’s primary restaurant accessed directly from the lobby. Rare materials such as metallic, polished pearl and shell can be spotted throughout the dining space.
The black-and-white fabric on the elevator doors was designed exclusively for the Okura family.
Geometric glazed tiles meet at the foot of a stairway.
A detail of Nishikibari silk, used here as a decorative wall finish at the entrance to the grand banquet hall.
Embossed signage at the Hotel Okura.
Japanese latticework—a simple openwork structure of crossed stripes of wood, often used in temples and shrines—is used as balcony dividers.
The exterior is referred to as Namakokabe, or sea cucumber wall. They're designed to change color as the sun moves throughout the day.
A friendly staff member waits to greet visitors to the main building.
Not all of the nostalgia lies inside of the building. Vintage cars are lined up outside in the parking area, seen here with the Okura Museum of Art directly behind. It became Japan’s first private art museum in 1917.