Shopping Hits the Sky

Tokyo Sky Tree TV Tower 1 600

The opening of new major commercial hubs in Shibuya, Omotesando, Asakusa and Odaiba will be great news for shopaholics in Tokyo. With the ultra-modern Hikarie, the Rising East project’s Sky Tree and Solamachi buildings and more, things are looking up.

Sky Tree is the one that is grabbing all the headlines and rightly so. The world’s highest free-standing communications tower stands at 634 metres. Reaching for the sky the tower hopes to attract tourists – and their money – back to the East side of Tokyo.

Back in the already entertainment-heavy Shibuya and Harajuku areas, the new additions will provide a boost, refreshing the area with spectacular architecture and hoping to appeal to a new demographic which feels timely in 2012.

Such major scale centres opening in times of economic uncertainty, though, may come as a surprise to many of us, especially in a country still slowly recovering from a major financial crisis and a natural disaster.

Tokyu Plaza

“Retail is playing catch up,” says Shinichi Nagasaki, a retail development specialist who was in charge of expansions for major global brands such as Disney, MotherCare and Tommy Hilfiger. “After the earthquake last year the already struggling developers – many of these projects had been in planning since before the Lehman collapse – judged consumer sentiments to be just too negative to push these projects through. When added to other problems such as electricity shortage and safety concerns, it just wasn’t a good environment.”

This year things are looking a bit better in Tokyo and the environment seems to be safe enough for grand openings. Do these companies see entering such a crowded market as profitable? Nagasaki tells us that “a major issue for developers in ‘hot’ areas such as Shibuya and Harajuku is that rent is so expensive they would need incredibly high sales figures to compensate for the low profit margins.”

“The key points for them are attracting the maximum number of customers and keeping them in the building once they come. This is why we are seeing retailers pushing their designers and architects the extra mile. If they attach their property to the Sky Tree or a major train station be it designing visionary buildings or just building a massive Gundam statue, customers will surely come.” he continues. “Such locations could also be seen as major boost for the retailers brand names rather then purely as a profit endeavor.”

Sky Tree

Retailers’ motivation aside, we Tokyoites have plenty of new offerings on the scene, so let’s get out there and start enjoying them.

Hikarie, Shibuya. Conveniently linked to the Hanzomon and Fukutoshin Metro lines, shopping just got more glamorous in Tokyo; the Tokyu Corporation-owned Hikarie includes high-end cosmetics stores, food plazas and fashion floors. The eye-catching Hikarie will be a breath of fresh air to Tokyo’s recession-watchers. To keep everyone happy, there is a music hall and even intriguingly named art spaces amongst the striking 34 storeys.

Diver City, Odaiba. The name of the new mall, Diver City, seems to be a pun on the katakana-ised ‘diversity’ – the Vs and Bs in romanised Japanese script ending up the same – and, Daiba, the location. Add ‘City’ for a bit of metropolitan Tokyo glamour and there you are. Add in manga museums, game centres and an aquarium – not forgetting that enormous Gundam statue – and there is even more reason to cross Rainbow Bridge.


Tokyu Plaza, Omotesando/Harajuku. With its many-mirrored entrance right on one of the busiest retail corners in Tokyo, this one is sure to be a winner. With a garden on the roof for good measure, we might have a new favourite building on the Tokyo retail scene.

Sky Tree / Solamachi, Sumida-ku. Not much more can be said about this one. Piercing the sky and almost twice the height of Tokyo Tower – a shame for some traditionalists – will it be a landmark for a new dawn?

Sky Tree opens on May 22 but we may have to wait a while. Most of the tickets were alloted to a lottery, the winners of which were announced on March 30 with only 335 applicants gaining admission for one slot on the first day.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko beat the winners to it with a late April preview trip.