About the Club
Tokyo American Club has been an integral part of the international community in Tokyo since its founding in 1928.
With more than 3,800 Members, drawn from 50-plus nations, the Club offers a diverse range of cultural, business and recreational activities and amenities in the heart of the Japanese capital.
The present facility, which was designed by lauded American architectural firm Pelli Clarke Pelli and opened on January 18, 2011, is the sixth incarnation of the Club.
The building was described by private club consultants the McMahon Group as “light years ahead of its U.S. counterparts” and “[as] quite possibly the finest private club facility in the world.”
Members enjoy access to world-class recreation facilities, including a roof-top pool, bowling alley, golf simulators, full-size gym, library, childcare center and spa, as well as a host of fitness, cultural and educational programs for all ages.
Besides being home to five restaurants, a bar and a seasonal café, the eight-story facility features seven overnight Guest Studios and superlative meeting, party and conference facilities.
Tokyo American Club will be the premier private club in Tokyo. The Club will achieve “best in class” in both Member and employee satisfaction.
Tokyo American Club is a private club that provides an environment in the American tradition, where the diverse Membership and their families gather as a community for social, recreational, business and cultural activities.
Club History (1928–present)
Since its inception, Tokyo American Club has never been isolated from its surroundings or world events.
While today the Club is known for cultivating international friendships, there was tension in the air when the first Members walked through its doors on May 23, 1928. Four years earlier, the United States government had passed the Alien Exclusion Act, barring Japanese and other Asians from immigrating to the US.
In that awkward atmosphere, 51 American members of the prestigious Tokyo Club decided to form their own organization. It's said that the political ramifications of the Alien Exclusion Act didn’t breach the walls of the Tokyo Club and probably was not a factor in forming the American Club.
Whatever the case, the Americans who worked for major US companies had other reasons for what they did. According to reports at the time, they wanted to start a club as a place for expatriate American men to take their wives or girlfriends for evening drinks.
The charter Members paid $500 each to start the Club and chose the top three floors of the well-known Iwamoto Building as their first home. It was just across the street from the old Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Imperial Hotel in Kojimachi and had a view of the Imperial Palace grounds.
Featuring the best in modern conveniences—including a heating system and a telephone—the first Club also boasted two restaurants, a general lounge, a ladies’ lounge, a ladies’ card room and a bar. Within months, membership hit 200 “active residents” and 75 “associate members.”
Tapping a larger-than-expected demand, the Club outgrew its facilities before long and, after just seven years, it was looking for new quarters.
The Club’s second home of two buildings combined into one was remodeled by Mitsubishi Real Estate. The canopied entrance, library, billiard room, dining rooms and bars for both men and women helped make the elegant new luncheon and social club at the Naka 10 No. 8 Building in Marunouchi the center of Tokyo’s expat social life.
But not all visitors had fun on their minds. As the relative openness of what was known as the "Taisho democracy" (1912–31) gave way to increased international tension, it was strongly suspected that the kempeitai (Japan’s military police) had bugged tables in the Club bar and that Richard Sorge, a legendary spy for the Soviet Union, often visited.
The Club closed with the outbreak of World War II. A December 15, 1942, article in The Japan Times speculated about ¥30,000 worth of liquor thought to be remaining in the Marunouchi quarters, though its existence was never proved.
Two Japanese Members took charge of the Club property, while interned Members signed a liquidation agreement, which paved the way for the sale of the Club for ¥43,000.
After the war, the Club reopened in its Marunouchi building on July 4, 1949, with 350 Members. But before this happened, the Club had to fight for its name with the US military and for the leasing rights to its old space with its landlord.
It took General Douglas MacArthur's influence to facilitate the process. The Club also received help from the three American banks doing business in Japan at the time. The banks extended credit to the Club and allowed it to operate on overdrafts.
But the Club would not be the same as it was before the war. As more businessmen arrived in Japan, often with families in tow, the needs of Members changed.
Between 1951 and 1953, several decisions would transform the Club—eventually. It became a Ministry of Foreign Affairs-sanctioned nonprofit organization, or shadan hojin, with a mission of promoting cultural exchange. At the same time, the Board of Governors decided to emphasize family services.
Finally, in 1954, the Club bought a new site in Azabudai.
The idea of a move to Azabudai, however, was controversial. Members complained that the Club would be “too far out of town.”
After the motion to move passed by a single vote, some Members resigned in protest. But most quickly embraced the spacious new premises, complete with the Club’s first swimming pool.
While away from modern Tokyo’s bustle (the idyllic surroundings were known as Mamianacho, or badger’s den, because so many of these nocturnal creatures lived there), the Azabudai site was entwined with Japanese history. The Owari feudal daimyo lords who ruled Nagoya had an informal residence there when Tokyo was still the city of Edo. That might explain the Edo-era pottery fragments found during a 2007 site survey.
During the Meiji period (1868–1912), Sumiyoshi Kawamura, known as the father of the Japanese navy, lived there in a house designed by British architect Josiah Conder, himself known as the pioneer of Japanese modern architecture. The house existed until the Club took over the land. During excavation work before the Club moved in, workers found and filled in a bomb shelter.
By the 1960s, the Club had become overcrowded. Efforts to cope brought such improvements as the addition of a teenage recreation building and golf driving range. But extensive use and sold-out events like a performance by the New Kingston Trio were straining the facility.
The Club was also changing in other ways. One induction of new Members in 1972 was notable because the 10 new Japanese Members nearly equaled in number the 12 new Americans.
A decision in 1971 by the Board of Governors proved highly significant: “The Club must provide space for any U.S. Citizen who wishes to join,” it ruled.
With American businessmen now arriving in their droves, the Club set up its first Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC), charged with developing an ambitious plan for expansion. Construction of a new Club at Azabudai began in 1972 with a groundbreaking ceremony, attended by a Shinto priest to cleanse the site.
The project involved razing the recreation building, the swimming pool and half of the main building. The Club then shifted to the partially completed new facility while the old building was replaced. The Club was officially closed for business for only one day.
A special dedication ceremony on December 9, 1974, preceded a gala ceremony and reception on January 25 the following year to celebrate the opening of the new Club.
US Ambassador James D Hodgson attended the January gathering, and there were efforts to have former President Gerald Ford also visit. In a letter published in The Tokyo American, the Club’s monthly publication at the time, Hodgson called the new Club a “handsome addition to the Tokyo landscape." The new facility attracted many more applications for membership from Americans, Japanese and other nationalities.
The Club would continue to carry out its mission to improve international relations and promote cultural exchange between the US and Japan. In 1975, the Boy Scout Troop 51 started at the new Club, growing from 10 to 18 members in its first year, while rental videos exploded in popularity. During the Vietnam War, the Club hosted entertainment events for American troops.
The 2002 renovation of the Recreation Building was carried out partly in reaction to a 1996 survey that highlighted Members’ dissatisfaction with some elements of the Club, including the lack of parking, inadequate facilities for families and an uncomfortable mix of casual and formal spaces.
The next year, the Club reactivated its Long Range Planning Committee, setting itself on the path to its present home. In a special vote in May 2006, 93 percent of the membership cast ballots in favor of the LRPC’s redevelopment proposal to move the Club to a temporary off-site location while the new premises, designed by the American architectural firm Pelli Clarke Pelli, were being built.
The Club held a groundbreaking on May 9, 2007, at its site in Takanawa. Echoing a ceremony before the rebuilding at Azabudai in the early 1970s, a Shinto priest conducted a purification ritual.
The Club's temporary site at Takanawa was custom-built by Konoike Construction. In a park-like setting behind the Josiah Conder-designed house and gardens of the Iwasaki family, the founders of Mitsubishi, the Club was billed as “a retreat in the heart of town.”
While significantly smaller in area than the Azabudai building, the Club still featured an outdoor swimming pool, restaurants, squash courts, a gymnasium, fitness center and bar.
During this period, the old buildings at Azabudai, as well as the Azabu Towers apartment buildings, were demolished and construction of the new facilities began. In all, redevelopment took three years.
The Club's impressive new facilities were opened on January 18, 2011, with a formal ceremony in the Winter Garden. Among the guests were US Ambassador John Roos, the honorary president of the Club, and architects César Pelli and Fred Clarke.
Addressing a longstanding issue, the Club is divided into a family, recreational side and a more formal, adult side. In another first, the Club features overnight rooms in the form of seven, individually designed Guest Studios.
The Club also changed its nonprofit status to become an ippan shadan hojin.
After seeing its membership dramatically affected by the 2008 global financial crisis and the triple disaster of March 11, 2011, the Club renegotiated its redevelopment loan and targeted potential foreign Members with a reduced entrance fees recruitment campaign. As of 2015, the Club boasts more than 3,800 Members.