Walking into the iconic Hotel Okura is like entering a deliciously preserved 1960s time capsule. The Tokyo landmark is a unique mid-century marvel, designed by luminaries Hideo Kosaka and Yoshiro Taniguchi to combine sleek modernist ideals with traditional Japanese influences. Cranes, origami and hishi diamonds are to be found in artwork and motifs all over the hotel. The chairs and tables in the vast lobby are spaced to look like the petals of plum blossoms. Uniquely Japanese flower arrangements are found on each floor.
Since opening in 1964, the Okura has hosted every US president from Nixon right up to President Obama, and featured in The Ninja by Eric Van Lustbader and Murakami’s 1Q84. James Bond even stayed there in You Only Live Twice, and staying at the Okura on our recent trip to Japan, I couldn’t help but agree with Anna Fifield’s observation: ‘If Don Draper were going to drink Old Fashioneds in Tokyo, he would drink them in the Orchid Bar of the Hotel Okura.’
Such is the success of Taniguichi and Kosaka’s design that Don Draper would look as at home here as this Japanese couple, posing for their wedding photographs:
Yet regrettably for architecture aficionados, history buffs and pop culture nerds, as well vintage lovers like myself, the original main wing of the hotel was demolished in 2015 to make way for a revamp. The decision was met with opposition, including petitions and public calls to ‘Save the Okura’.
“Change and construction are features of life in Tokyo and contribute to the city’s thrilling sense of purpose and energy,” a petition by design magazine Monocle read. “But should they come at the expense of the capital’s history and identity?” The management of the hotel reportedly received large numbers of letters and emails pleading for the building to be saved.
Sadly, the protests weren’t enough. The main building of the Hotel Okura is gone forever.
Thankfully, however, the South Wing remains – seen above, photographed by my husband Berndt Sellheim.
At the moment, travellers to Tokyo can find great deals online to stay in their beautiful, minimalist rooms and experience some of the best service in the world. We found deals for roughly $300 Aus per night – a steal in terms of value. (No, this blog is not sponsored in any way). We were particularly impressed with the service and the attention to detail on our recent stay, with unexpected delights like pathways awash in fairy lights, a bar that makes cocktails as good as any we’ve tasted, and truly impeccable service. They even helped retrieve my lost wallet when it came back to the local police station just as we had to leave for the airport to return home.
It’s true that Tokyo’s ever-changing skyline helps to make it one of the most dynamic and exciting cities in the world, and older architecture may need a rethink in earthquake prone climates, as the management has pointed out. Regardless, the loss of the entire original main building of the Hotel Okura is something that has rightfully been felt by historians and vintage lovers around the world. Staying in the South Wing gave us a taste of just how magnificent the main hotel must have been.
We’ll see what the unveiling of the revamped main hotel brings in 2019. In the meantime, stay in the time-capsule like South Wing while you can.
“Taking you to your hotel first – the Okura, latest of the Western ones. American tourist got murdered at the Royal Oriental the other day and we don’t want to lose you all that soon. Then we’ll do a bit of serious drinking.” – You Only Live Twice, 1967
Above: James Bond stayed there 50 years ago.