'Sexier' Tokyo opens tallest skyscraper

Posted: 28 March 2007 1651 hrs

TOKYO: Tokyo this week opens its tallest skyscraper, featuring top-notch shops, restaurants and even a hospital as the metropolis tries to project a slicker, sexier image than its rising Asian rivals.

Tokyo Midtown, built on what used to be the Defence Agency headquarters, is the latest giant urban complex to transform the downtown area of the world's most populous city.

Rising 248 metres (813 feet), the central tower of the pentagonal complex is the city's tallest structure apart from the uninhabited Tokyo Tower.

Besides 132 shops and restaurants, the new site features a Ritz-Carlton – the most expensive hotel in an already expensive city – and a medical centre affiliated with Baltimore's prestigious Johns Hopkins University.

It also includes the Suntory Museum, the second major new art gallery to open in Tokyo this year, and pricey condominiums.

The designers said Tokyo Midtown, which will open to the public on Friday, was meant to show a more sensitive, aesthetically aware side of Japan, the world's second largest economy.

"Through Midtown, we aim to turn Tokyo into the centre of intellectual creativity for business and culture in Japan, Asia and the world," said Hiromitsu Iwasa, head of Mitsui Real Estate in charge of the project.

"We also want this area to be the centre from which Japanese values and aesthetic sense will be sent out to the world," he said.

A consortium of six companies built the 69,000 square-metre (741,000 square-foot) complex at a cost of 370 billion yen (three billion dollars).

Rooms at the Ritz-Carlton will cost up to 2.1 million yen (18,000 dollars) a night for suites at the top of the tower with a view of Mount Fuji.

"We will have no shortage of people coming in the doors," said Simon F. Cooper, president of the US-based Ritz-Carlton company, noting Japan's passion for luxury goods.

"It's the nightclub syndrome: the newest club is going to get visitors. Our challenge is to make that visit so exquisite that they want to come back," he told a news conference.

In one corner of Tokyo Midtown is the 21-21 Design Site, Japan's first institute dedicated to studying the creative process of design.

"Japan is essentially known as an economic powerhouse, and we want to show the world another face – one of design and aesthetics," said architect Tadao Ando, who conceptualised 21-21 with fashion designer Issey Miyake.

Miyake said he hoped the institute would help change a society "solely focused on consumption".

"Today in Japan, we only create products to sell. There is a competition, devoid of feeling, that revolves around the packaging. The goal of design is elsewhere," Miyake said.

Iwasa said the project would help Tokyo retrieve an international standing that has slipped since Japan's 1990s recession, as other Asian cities such as Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong have caught up.

"Winning against international competition (depends on) Japan's aggressive application of design, which is one of the reasons for Japan's competitiveness and is internationally acclaimed," Iwasa said.

But some experts said mega-complexes were just one step in ensuring that the metropolis remains appealing.

"Japan needs to make Tokyo sexier," said Yoji Otani, a real estate analyst at Credit Suisse Securities.

"Midtown is not enough. Tokyo will need to develop more diverse facilities and think seriously of ways to make itself attractive for reasons other than its economy."

- AFP/so