Japan Tips from Locals: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel

Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel mainteined in Meiji Mura

The hotel was intact even after the Great Kanto Earthquake

The Imperial Hotel was built in 1923, demolished in 1967. Only the entrance is still left as a museum in a small city in Aichi prefecture, far away from Tokyo where it was originally built. In order to make it the best hotel in Asia, the hotel company placed an order for Frank Lloyd Wright to design it. The name of the architect is one of the big factors for the building to go down in history like this, but there’s another big factor. On the very day of unveiling the hotel, the Great Kanto Earthquake hit Tokyo and claimed more than 140000 lives. Surprisingly enough, however, the hotel remained intact in such an unprecedented disaster.

The lobby area of the old Imperial Hotel. The soft light is penetrating through the decorated wondows.

God in the decorations

I visited the museum sometimes when I lived near the small city where the museum is located. What impressed me first and foremost was the decorations on the windows and pillars of the entrance. Due to the natural light through the window decorations and illumination light leaked from inside the pillars, I felt like being draped in light. The decorations are the main feature of the hotel. Everytime visiting there and seeing the decorations, I remembered the words: God is in the details. By the way, the words are generally known to be said by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. As far as I made a quick search on that, the truth has not come out. There’re several views like Einstein, Neitzsche, Le Corbusier, etc.

One of our coffee tables. The tabletop is grid-style, and the light penetrating the table top creates the same-shape shadow on the floor.

Seeing the wood for the trees

As I was writing before, being detail-oriented is one of the Japanese national characters, I think. In that sense, our furniture can be said to be full of God. Having said that, I don’t mean such a national character always works better. For example, there are some Japanese cars of which design is extremely good in details but looks strange when they are seen on the whole. God is in the details, but “you can’t see the wood for the trees.” This would be another saying that we have to keep in mind.

Photo credit: https://www.imperialhotel.co.jp/e/our_world/column/the_wright_imperial_2.html


A corporate logo, the letters of C and H are combined to look like a tree in a circle

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.