In a Renewed Hotel Okura, Japanese Historians Still See a Loss

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In a Renewed Hotel Okura, Japanese Historians Still See a Loss
The old main wing of Hotel Okura in Tokyo, now demolished. The new main wing is scheduled to open in 2019 / © Jeremie Souteyrat
In a Renewed Hotel Okura, Japanese Historians Still See a Loss
The old main wing of Hotel Okura in Tokyo, now demolished. The new main wing is scheduled to open in 2019 / © Jeremie Souteyrat

The outcry over the demolition last year of the 53-year-old Hotel Okura in Tokyo surprised no one more than some Japanese historians and architectural specialists.

Monocle, the global lifestyle magazine, had circulated a petition, savetheokura.com, to register the “outrage from admirers of its unique design.” Tomas Maier, the creative director of Bottega Veneta, an Italian luxury brand, filmed a video memorial and started a social media campaign, #MyMomentAtOkura.

The hotel’s modernist postwar lobby artfully balanced elements of traditional Japan, like lacquered plum-blossom-shaped tables and chairs, with visions of what was then futuristic, like a lighted world map displaying global time zones. It was frequented by United States presidents including President Obama, and other heads of state, celebrities, artists and designers. It played a central role in the 1960s James Bond novel “You Only Live Twice.”

Hotel Okura Co. Ltd., whose largest investors include the Taisei Corporation, a construction company, and Mitsubishi Estate, Japan’s second-largest real estate developer, plans to build a 38-story high-rise with 510 rooms, 102 more than the Okura, and add 18 stories of office space. The renovation is estimated to cost $1 billion. The company promised to “faithfully reproduce” several beloved artifacts in the lobby, including wall tapestries, paper lanterns and sliding doors, the lacquered furnishings and map of time zones. […]

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