My moment at Tokyo's treasured Hotel Okura

Correspondent Harry Fawcett remembers his stay at the iconic Japanese hotel, now closing to make way for a skyscraper.


    There were a number of international campaigns to save Tokyo's Hotel Okura - the icon of Japanese modernism that closed its doors this week.

    One of them was launched by Tomas Maier, Okura fan, and head of the fashion house Bottega Veneta.

    He encouraged other enthusiasts to post their memories of this exquisite slice of 1960s sophistication, under the banner #mymomentatokura.

    So here's mine.

    A family holiday this April. My son falling out of his pushchair, then rolling on the floor uproariously in front of a Kimono-clad lift attendant. His younger sister joining him.

    Then later, in the room, making perfect, yoghurt thumbprints on the floor, expertly out of parental sight.

    [Al Jazeera]

    It is surely not what Ian Fleming had in mind when he sent James Bond to stay at the Okura in the book You Only Live Twice. And it doesn't fit with the hotel’s reputation as a venue for discreet chats between officials and diplomats.

    But it is a testament to the Okura that we felt entirely comfortable and at home during our stay. A sense of quiet, enveloping welcome seemed  to pervade the place.

    Most of all in that famous lobby - a marvellous blend of Western '60s cool and serene Japanese design.

    I spent a happy half-hour simply sitting at one of the flower-shaped table-and-chair arrangements, drinking it all in. Facebook and Twitter were left unchecked, earphones were coiled away; the muted colours and quiet background hum providing all the sensory input required.

    A wander through the corridors turned up unexpected treats at every turn: a timezone wall map, cities lighting up with their times, at the push of a button; emerald-green signs casting pools of light on the ceiling; the intimate Orchid Bar and the subterranean avenue of old-fashioned shops.

    I don’t know any other place where buildings have a shorter lifespan than people, and are updated every 50 years, one after

    Hiroshi Matsukuma, architecture professor and head of a campaign to preserve Japan’s modernist landmarks

    All of this is gone for good.

    Of course, it's the owners’ right to redevelop the site. The 38-storey replacement will have about a fifth more rooms, catering, they say, to the requirements of the 21st century traveller.

    'Knock-it-down, build-it-up"

    But for many the Okura was more than a hotel - it was a treasured public space. And a marker of where Japan was in the middle of the last century.

    Such considerations are all too often trumped by the "knock-it-down, build-it-up" approach Japan has implemented for its urban environments.

    Hiroshi Matsukuma, architecture professor and head of a campaign to preserve Japan's modernist landmarks said: "The city should be a place where architecture from various periods, and various ways of thinking at the time, continue to add layers of history.

    "When buildings outlive people, we can pass on culture and history to the next generation. That is the way it is supposed to be. I don't know any other place where buildings have a shorter lifespan than people, and are updated every 50 years, one after another."

    For a place like the Okura to meet such a fate, it shows how few protections exist. And it shows how little value is placed on Japan's recent architectural past.

    As I tried, not very successfully, to clean the yoghurt stains out of the carpet in our room I glanced up at my wife: "Well, I guess they are going to knock the place down, after all".

    It doesn't seem that funny now.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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