An ad from the book, Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 1964
The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in the 1960s was a stunning structure. Designed by the legendary architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Imperial Hotel’s lava rock facing, the abundance greenery and the dominant reflection pool makes me think of Angkor Wat or the Taj Mahal on a more intimate scale.

Known in Japan as the Teikoku Hotel, the Wright designed structure was built in the early 1920’s, opening up on September 1, 1923, the day of Japan’s most powerful earthquake ever, one that resulted in the flattening of Tokyo and over 140,000 deaths. Wright had already left Japan several months before, but was proud when told that the Imperial Hotel remained standing.

The ad above was published in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir book, an item recently rescued from the damp and dingy garage of my old house in Queens we recently sold. The text in the ad makes the classic Japanese pitch to westerners, how their offerings are a perfect blend of East meets West.

While the ad was placed to attract guests, there was actually little need for advertising. A tremendous shortage of hotel rooms in Tokyo were expected during the 1964 Olympics. According to the official report of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee post-Olympiad XVIII, the International Olympic Committee, the various national Olympic committees and international sports federations were going to send a significantly large number of foreign guests to Tokyo, and they would be in need of a dwindling number of accommodations in September and October, 1964.


Worried about meeting the needs of their important guests, the Imperial Hotel agreed, in 1962, to allocate 250 beds for the International Olympic Committee and the national Olympic committees. 750 beds were set aside by the Daiichi Hotel for the various international sports federations and their visitors. Nearly 600 additional beds were also reserved for the dignitaries by nine other hotels, including the Hotel New Otani, Fairmont Hotel and the Haneda Tokyu Hotel.

In the years and months leading up to the Games, the hotels tried hard to get the various committees and federations to provide more exact numbers of guests. The hotels were facing increasing pressures to accommodate more tourists, but they had already made commitments for the Olympic officials. Special liaison offices were created in each hotel to help confirm the exact number of guests who were planning to arrive.

In the end, many of the hotels got screwed, or perhaps a better way to say, they took one for the team. The Fairmont Hotel and Haneda Tokyu Hotel ended up filling 26% of the allocated rooms for national Olympic committee members and their guests, clearly given overly ambitious numbers. Other hotels suffered the same fate, although the Imperial Hotel, no doubt hosting the crème de la crème of the International Olympic Committee, were able to achieve 93% occupancy of rooms allocated to the Olympic and sports federation officials.

By the late 1960s, the Wright-designed structure was falling into decay, part of the building sinking into its foundation. The number of rooms was woefully short of economic viability for a downtown Tokyo hotel as well. The hotel was closed at the end of 1967, and demolished to make way for a high-rise structure.

For those nostalgic for the Wright-designed hotel, take a trip to Inuyama in Aichi prefecture, near Nagoya. There is a place called Meiji-mura, of the Meiji Village Museum, where historic buildings from Japan’s past are reconstructed, restored and preserved, including the entrance and facade of the Imperial Hotel.

The façade and reflection pool of the original Imperial Hotel in Meiji-mura

Dawn Fraser in TokyoDawn Fraser was on top of the world, after winning gold and silver medals, adding to her haul of 8 medals over three Olympiads. She was honored with the task of carrying the Australian flag in the closing ceremony on Saturday, October 24.

But it was Friday, and the night was still young. And when you’re Dawn Fraser, you can’t help but let a bit of the larrikin out.

The competitions were over and the party was on at The Imperial Hotel. The Australian swim team had gone home already, but Fraser had the entire Australian hockey team to party with. As she described in her book, Below the Surface – Confessions of an Olympic Champion, “at one stage one of the Olympic officials was wearing a kimono while the owner of the kimono was dancing about in a large Australian dressing gown.”

Around 2:30 am, a little less than 12 hours prior to when Fraser was scheduled to march into the National Olympic Stadium carrying her country’s flag, a plan was being hatched. Fraser and her friends were going to embark on a shady tradition of sorts in the Olympics – pinching flags.

A friend of hers, whom she refers to as an official, tells her that he’s found an ideal place to “pick up some good flags.” Fraser, the official and a hockey player slip away from the party, and walk through the darkened Tokyo streets until they arrive at the Emperor’s Palace. Again, here’s how Fraser explains it in her autobiography, Below the Surface:

We followed the moat for a while, and suddenly we were in the middle of a large flutter of flags. The flagpoles were sprouting like exclamation marks all round us. We chose a fine big Olympic banner with the five circles on it, and one of my companions bunked himself up on the shoulders of the other. They swayed around a little, and they swore once or twice; but finally they pulled the flag loose. ‘Quick,’ said one of them. ‘Cop this.’ I took the flag. ‘Go for your life,’ said the other. ‘The demons are coming.’

The “demons” were the police. Fraser tried to hide in a large shrub, but the police found her and started beating on her feet with a baton, so she threw the flag away and ran again. She saw a bicycle and hopped on it to get her further from the police “yelping and whistling” behind her. After all, she was making her escape on a policeman’s bike. That’s when she saw the Palace moat, and thought she could disappear into its darkness. “I figured that no policeman would ever catch me once I hit the moat,” she wrote.

Dawn Fraser on a bicycle_The Olympic CEntury XVIII Olympiad
Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser on a bicycle, from the book The Olympic Century XVIII Olympiad

In the panic, she ran into a brick wall, jumped 8 feet down into the moat onto more concrete and badly twisted her ankle. That’s when the police caught her.

At the Marunouchi Police Station, to where she was taken, no one would believe that she was not only an Olympic athlete, but that she was the world-famous Dawn Fraser. She had no identification on her, so the best she could do in the middle of the night was to contact a friend to bring her identification, and vouch for her. This friend was Lee Robinson, who was filming a documentary about Dawn Fraser. He brought the ID and the