Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hotel Keys - Tokyo's Imperial Hotel

Greetings!  Today's key is going to transport us across the Pacific Ocean to the country of Japan, where we visit the famed Imperial Hotel of Tokyo.  This hotel, currently boasting more than 700 rooms, has an especially interesting history that we'll dive right into.

The Imperial Hotel's history dates back to its opening in 1890.  At the time, Japanese leaders and other important figures thought that opening such a hotel would be a necessity for Japan.  The objective was for it to be targeted at foreign visitors.  The initial hotel building was designed in a neo-Renaissance style, looking like it would fit in more with a European city than a turn-of-the-century Japanese one.  After a slow start, business at the hotel gradually picked up until the hotel became more of a Japanese institution.

The original 1890 Imperial Hotel

The original 1890 hotel ended up burning down in 1922.  Fortunately, the hotel was in the midst of some big plans, and, as a result, the fire wasn't the end of the hotel.  A decade before the fire, Frank Lloyd Wright, the famed American architect, was contracted to design a new hotel.  His design was based on a Mayan Revival style of architecture, with the main facility resembling a pyramid.  Wright's building endured a barrage of physical abuse over its lifetime, starting fairly early with the massive 1923 earthquake.  While Wright was informed there was no damage, some minor parts of the building sustained some amounts of damage.  During World War II, the incendiary bombing of Tokyo by the Allies decimated the hotel's south wing and completely annihilated the beloved Peacock Room.  When Wright was asked to return to the hotel to oversee repairs, he refused, presumably due to the fact that Japan and the US were still at war at that point.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Imperial Hotel, as seen on a postcard

During the American occupation of Japan, the Japanese owners were forced to give up the property.  It was not returned until 1952, when the decaying hotel began the repair process.  A few more annexes were added to the building so that the hotel could accommodate more visitors.  But then, in 1967, with the building aging poorly, the decision was made to demolish it and start over again.  Despite Wright's structure being a classic, the repairs needed on the building made a new one more practical.  Additionally, Wright had the idea of a "floating foundation", essentially set on mud, which would help protect against earthquakes.  While it did help in that regard, it also made parts of the building sink over 3 feet.  The newer hotel would be on a much more solid foundation, and hopefully as safe against earthquakes.

The remains of the Wright structure, as it appears today

The current version of the Imperial Hotel was completed in 1970, and is considered to be one of Tokyo's top hotels.  The Japanese were diligent in modeling their hotel after American hotels and practices, in their consistent attempt to appeal to foreign visitors.  Despite the fact that today's hotel isn't nearly as architecturally interesting as Wright's version, it remains a popular destination.  And fortunately, for those who want to see a glimpse of the older hotel, the lobby and part of the Wright hotel have been reassembled at the Museum Meiji-Mura in Nagoya.  The museum is a large architectural park which celebrates early 1900s Meiji-style architecture.

The modern Imperial Hotel

As always, be sure to check out the key to the Imperial Hotel of Tokyo, as well as countless other keys, in the key room!