The greatest Japanese Modern Let’s study thoroughly the fascination of the main building of Hotel Okura. | カーサ ブルータス Casa BRUTUS

The greatest Japanese Modern
Let’s study thoroughly the fascination of the main building of Hotel Okura.

Various creators from all over the world greatly admire Hotel Okura Tokyo. Especially the main building which was completed in 1962 is praised as a masterpiece of modern architecture. It is sought for its charm from the architecture and design point of view.

谷口吉郎が設計した本館ロビーのメザニン(中2階)からの眺め。奥の壁には富本憲吉の意匠による花の紋様が、天井からは「オークラ・ランターン」が下がる。控えめな光が至福の時をもたらす。


The hotel where the beauty of Japanese crafts is combined.

The Okura attempted to exemplify “the world-class beauty of Japan” and the hotel combines the best architecture and crafts in Japan at that time. Let us first look at the history of its birth.

Okura design
A planning committee was formed including the following key members;
Yoshiro Taniguchi - In charge of Lobby, Orchid Room, Orchid Bar.
Hideo Kosaka - The ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, construction director. In charge of exterior, Heian Room, Chitose Room
Hajime Shimizu - Taisei Corporation, design director. In charge of Japanese guest rooms.
Kisaburo Ito - Ito Architects and engineers, director. In charge of small and medium banquet rooms.
Akira Iwama - Mitsubishi Estate Co, Ltd. Construction director.
Design committee included the following key members;
Saburo Mizoguchi - Cultural assets expert council member.
Kenichi Shigeoka - Painter. In charge of decoration of former Imperial Hotel.
Tsutomu Hiroi - Sculptor who studied under Isamu Noguchi.
Kiyomichi Iwata - Master of Sekiso school of Ikebana
Jiro Agata - Japanese painter.

Yoshiro Taniguchi

Born in 1904. Main works include Chichibu cement second factory, Teikoku Theatre, National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, Shin-Banraisha in Keio University - collaborated with Isamu Noguchi etc. He was also the original proposer for The Museum Meiji-Mura, where architecture of Meiji Era is exhibited. Deceased in 1979.

There are many foreign creators including Tomas Maier, who are fond of Hotel Okura Tokyo. Apart from him, Miuccia Prada, Rem Koolhaas, Marc Newson, who recently joined Apple Inc., and others feel an irreplaceable charm from this hotel which might appear “old-fashioned” at a first glance.

Okura project started in 1958, by the first proposal by Kishichiro Okura, who was also managing the Imperial Hotel. He had an experience of studying in the UK, and was deeply interested in the art and culture. Yoshiro Taniguchi and other four key Individuals were appointed as the planning committee. Looking at the future global society, he felt the need of a stage to accommodate the world, and wanted to build a hotel to exemplify the Japanese aesthetic, not an imitation of western design. He showed the copy of Heike Sutra to the planning committee members. It is the graceful hand-copied sutra, decorated with gold and silver leaf, crystal, fret work and metal fittings. The members also visited the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which was the representative architecture from Fujiwara Era. Okura was hoping to replicate the sophisticated elegance from Fujiwara Era to the hotel’s design.

The design was delegated to the planning committee but Okura, who could not suppress his outpouring passion, often stepped in during the process. For example, Okura approached the painter, Seison Maeda, asking for his advice on the color of the exterior wall. Maeda saw the plan, and apparently replied, “I am a painter and do not know the color of architecture. You should let the architect decide on that.” Further, Okura wanted to display the painting called “Yumeno Kakehashi (Bridge of the dream)“ inspired by Koetsu and Sotatsu. Concerned that it would only look like a copy, Taniguchi adopted the spirit and built a mezzanine that overlooks the lobby. In the lobby, the tapestry work of Shibenka (Four Petal Flowers) by Kenkichi Tomimoto is displayed and soft lights come through Shoji screen. This is one of the most symbolic places in Hotel Okura.

The Interior design, furniture, tableware, matches and menu were selected by the design committee. Design motif of gingko nut, tortoiseshell, flax ornament etc., were carefully selected and applied. Gingko nut design was inspired by the enormous Gingko trees in the site. Also, the Hishi-mon (diamond pattern), inspired by the family emblem of Okura, were arranged in various forms.

Then the hotel was finally completed. To this day, it continues to welcome guests in an almost unchanged figure. However, it was announced that the operation of the main building will be ceased in August 2015 and that it would be rebuilt as a sky-scraper. As Tomas Maier and Iwan Baan speak out, this building is a one and only “face” of Tokyo. We strongly wish that the best be done to transfer and protect the lobby, for example. As Tomas says, “it will be too late to cry once it’s gone.”

  • The building that takes advantages of slopes
    The site in the center part of the photograph was the former Okura residence zone. It was specified as Tokyo “green area” and there was a building restriction for a large scale construction. Therefore, they took the advantage of slope and set the 6th floor height and 4th floor underground.
  • Namakokabe (Sea cucumber wall)
    The picture was taken from east side of the construction site. “Namakokabe” was already completed. The idea of Namakokabe was applied in order to emphasize the horizontal line like the castle walls.
  • Three buildings extend in Mitsuya (three arrow) Architecture.
    In order for all 550 rooms to have a view, three buildings were radially connected to east, south and north. It is called Mitsuya architecture. This picture was taken just before completion.

Do you know the secrets of [design] the hotel?

The design committee, which was established when the planning of Okura started, used [Japanese Design] to express the Japanese traditional sense of beauty inside and outside the hotel. It is one of the many ways to enjoy Okura, to walk about and look for design details throughout the hotel and find out their meaning.

  • 01. Patterns in the Volumes of “The Poems of Thirty-six Poets”
    Wall surface of the banquet room [Heian no ma]. It is the recreation of the Poems of Thirty-six Poets stored in Nishihonganji temple in Kyoto by using the technique of foil, layering, tearing of the colored paper. It reveals to the world the Heian nobility.
  • 02. Take (Bamboo)
    The Bamboo which grows well in the East is a familiar plant. The shadows of bamboo through Shoji in the main lobby appear like an ink painting. Especially in the morning, the outline is clearly seen and gives a refreshing feel.
  • 03. Fuji (Wisteria)
    The chandelier at the entrance of the banquet room is a simplified design of a bouquet of wisteria flowers. Wisterias are enjoyed as early summer flower and a “banquet of wisteria” was hosted in the Heian Palace. The motif is often used for the crafts.
  • 04. Uroko-mon (The fish scale pattern)
    As the triangle ceramic tiles at the entrance area look like fish scales, it is called Uroko-mon. Originally it was used amongst common people. Later on, the simplicity and neatness of the pattern appealed to the worriers in Kamakura Era. Later on it also became the family emblem of Samurai.
  • 05. Kikko-mon (The tortoiseshell pattern)
    The Hexagon shape Kikko-mon looks similar to the tortoiseshells; it is widely used as the symbol of long life or happiness since the Heian era. At the Okura also, various forms of Kikko-mon are used for the exterior walls and indirect lighting.
  • 06. Hishi-mon (The diamond pattern)
    It was the family emblem of Mizoguchi family from Niigata and when one daughter married to Kishichiro, 5 Hishi became the family emblem of Okura family. Since then it has been widely used. The Hishi zukushi pattern on the elevator door comes from the Fusuma (Japanese sliding door) of the holiday house in Mukojima owned by Kihachiro Okura (father of Kishichiro).
  • 07. Kirikodama-gata (The Hexahedral Pattern)
    It is one of the jewels from Tumulus period. It is the shape of crystal of which top and bottom are cut off. In the lobby, lighting with this motif is installed and it has been fondly known as the “Okura Lantern”.
  • 08. Namakokabe (Sea Cucumber wall)
    These walls are made by placing flat tiles on top of which mounted plaster is put over the joints. Namakokabe can often be seen on the rural houses, store houses, and castle walls. This design was applied for the Okura’s exterior walls where the white ceramic tiles were inlayed.
  • 09. Ume
    When looking at the table and chairs of the main lobby from above, the lacquered table looks like the center of the Ume flower and five chairs like the petals. It is a popular design widely used for the Japanese sweets and painting of the folding screen.
  • 10. Asanoha-mon(The Hemp Leaf Pattern)
    The shape resembles the hemp leaf, hence it is called Asanoha pattern. It is a very important feminine motif. It is a simple but very cleverly constructed pattern. The wooden lattice work seen in the main lobby (pictured) is very difficult to move or repair.