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Tokyo time capsule: Saying goodbye to Hotel Okura

By Pamela Boykoff, CNN
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 0207 GMT (1007 HKT)
The classic Japanese entry to Tokyo's Hotel Okura has welcomed guests since it was built half a century ago. The classic Japanese entry to Tokyo's Hotel Okura has welcomed guests since it was built half a century ago.
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Hotel Okura Tokyo
Bamboo road
Stress-free zone
Artful doors
Famous guests
Okura Shukokan Museum
Bar Highlander
Yep, this is Tokyo
Tatami break
South wing
Kyokusui Japanese garden
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Main building of Tokyo's Hotel Okura will be torn down to make way for a bigger hotel in advance of 2020 Olympics
  • Built in 1962, Hotel Okura has remained largely untouched over more than five decades
  • Monocle magazine recently started a petition to save the old Okura

(CNN) -- If you've never been to Tokyo's Hotel Okura, you're missing out on one of the true accommodation stars of Asia -- a beautiful time capsule of a hotel that glorifies the design and service of Japan in the 1960s.

It's one of my favorite places to stay in the world.

Next August, however, its main building is slated for tearing down to make way for a new, bigger hotel in advance of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Okura's problem is also its main appeal -- it seems stuck in time.

Built in 1962, before Tokyo's last Olympics, the hotel is a masterpiece of Japanese aesthetics and modernist design that's remained largely untouched over more than five decades.

It's hard not to fall in love with the elegance of the main lobby, lit by hanging, hexagonal lanterns and furnished with chairs and tables that resemble plum blossoms.

Okura Hotel\'s Bar Highlander whiskey lounge.
Okura Hotel's Bar Highlander whiskey lounge.

The map with a Seiko clock -- displaying time zones in cities across the world -- still includes Leningrad as an option.

The Bar Highlander whiskey lounge serves cocktails that have long fallen out of favor elsewhere in the world.

Devoted staff look after customers with a level of devotion that's rapidly disappearing elsewhere.

After helping me buy tickets to a baseball game in Yokohama last year, I was given a packet of directions not just to the city or the stadium, but to my actual seat.

MORE: 11 extremely practical Japan travel tips

Not the time nor the place for progress

I even love all the things about the Okura that annoy my friends and colleagues.

Though the rooms have been renovated since the '60s, they feel cramped and outdated by modern standards.

Sending the most petite lady on staff to deliver 100 kilos of camera equipment to my room isn't a great display of hotel management.

And the room service menu is, I think, the most expensive in Asia. (For the money, that better be the best burger in the entire world.)

Somehow the origami turtle on my pillow seems to make up for all manner of faults.

On the whole, though, the Hotel Okura makes up for in character whatever it lacks in efficiency or modern amenities.

In Asia, a part of the world defined by an ethos of tear-it-down and build-it-back-bigger (and faster and more tech savvy), the Hotel Okura pays homage to best of the way things used to be.

The hotel says the new building will maintain the traditional Japanese aesthetic and the concept of the lobby, but it seems impossible that a new building will be everything the old one was.

The Okura Shukokan Museum -- currently closed for renovations -- is located in front of the hotel\'s main building.
The Okura Shukokan Museum -- currently closed for renovations -- is located in front of the hotel's main building.

I know there's a time and place for progress and renovation.

I just don't think it's this time or this place.

The folks at Monocle magazine have started a petition to save the old Okura.

I hope they succeed.

If they don't, I'll be booking a room next August to say goodbye.

Hotel Okura Tokyo, 2-10-4 Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tokyo; +81 (0)3 3582 0111; rooms from ¥23,500 ($230)

MORE: Fountain of youth? Historic Japanese inn famous for beautifying baths

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