With its high ceiling and muted lighting, the capacious lobby of the Hotel Okura’s main building seemed like a huge, stylish cave. Against the cave walls, like the sighing of a disemboweled animal, bounced the muted conversations of people seated on the lobby’s sofas. The floor’s thick, soft carpeting could have been primeval moss on a far northern island. It absorbed the sound of footsteps into its endless span of accumulated time.
―Haruki Muakami, 1Q84
The Hotel Okura opened in 1962 in time for the Games of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo. The Okura, situated next to the US embassy in Toranomon, has been the preferred base of US Presidents since R. M. Nixon. Designed by architects Yoshiro Taniguchi and Hideo Kosaka, with input from artists Shiko Munakata and Kenkichi Tomimoto, it remains a paragon of Japanese mid-century design and aesthetic sensibilities. The public spaces—in particular, the lobby of the hotel’s main building—are refined and elegant in an understated way that does indeed embody the hotel’s proclaimed spirit of “Harmony and Hospitality”.
In an act of unfortunate symmetry, the Main Building of the Hotel Okura, with its sublime main lobby space, is sadly slated for demolition and redevelopment as Tokyo is preparing to host its next Olympiad in 2020. In a city that seldom has time for sentimentality as it constantly rebuilds itself into an ever more modern, more spectacular megalopolis, it seems inevitable—despite a movement to save the hotel—as the hotel’s years are clearly visible, but it will be sad to see such a beautiful layer of the city’s aesthetic and cultural history fade.