When a Tokyo old-timer recalls the Imperial Hotel [Teikoku Hoteru], they are, no doubt, remembering the luxury establishment that welcomed dignitaries and well-heeled visitors to Tokyo between 1923-1968, and which was known for two things: it famously survived the Great Kanto Earthquake only months after opening for business in June, 1923, and it was the most famous of six buildings in Japan designed and completed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright 1.
Under construction from 1915 to 1923, and made largely of volcanic stone and ferro-concrete, the Wright-designed Imperial Hotel enjoyed a 45-year reign as Tokyo’s premiere hotel. So highly-regarded was the Imperial that it was used after World War II (which it survived unscathed) as billeting during the Occupation of Japan for none but the most senior SCAP and Allied military personnel, and the leagues of Washington bureaucrats who paid the Japanese capital a visit.
By and large, though, the Wright-designed Imperial would eventually be considered by the post-war traveler to be dark and musty, and its un-airconditioned rooms too small. The hotel’s foundation, too, had by then settled unevenly into the soft subsoil; its long hallways and corridors came to have a wavy, rubbery appearance about them. A more modern but thoroughly plain (and very un-Wrightesque) multi-story annex was built behind the main building in the 1950’s.
Finally, in 1968, the Wright masterpiece was demolished and replaced by a gleaming, ultra-modern four-star edifice. All that remains of the “Wright” Imperial nowadays is the hotel’s front facade, preserved today at Meiji Mura, the outdoor architectural museum near Nagoya that hosts a large collection of Meiji era architectural art. Even though the Wright-designed Imperial was not a product of the Meiji era — as the first Imperial most certainly was — it came to symbolize for many people — Japanese and gaijin alike — the great degree to which Tokyo had matured during its first hundred years into a grand, majestic and, yes, a most civilized world city.