Midtown — Roppongi just got loftier

Nightlife district's new glass tower may trump Hills in panache

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Move over, glitzy Roppongi Hills. There’s a new kid on the block in Tokyo’s Minato Ward — an even taller landmark testament to the spoils of wealth.

Tokyo Midtown, a new commercial/residential complex occupying the 10-hectare site of the former Defense Agency and only 500 meters north of Roppongi Hills near Roppongi and Nogizaka subway stations, will officially open its doors Friday, standing out as a new monolith soaring above the bustling din of the famed nightlife district.

Boasting 248-meter-tall Midtown Tower, one of the highest in Tokyo, the 370 billion yen complex developed by a six-firm consortium led by Mitsui Fudosan Co. houses the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo luxury hotel, office space for 20,000 workers, upscale apartments for 1,200 dwellers, 130 shops and restaurants, industrial design offices, art galleries and what some expect to be a top-flight medical center offering services in both Japanese and English.

Hinokicho Park and Midtown Garden add 4 hectares of much needed greenery to the site down below.

Mitsui Fudosan expects the complex to get 30 million visitors annually — roughly 82,000 per day — and earn 30 billion yen in annual revenues.

“I hope that (this complex) attracts a diverse range of people and companies from around the world and becomes an innovative town” that can create and market cutting-edge technology, products and services, Mitsui Fudosan President Hiromichi Iwasa said Monday during a press preview of the complex.

Tokyo Midtown and Roppongi Hills both target high-end consumers. While some observers say competition for tenants, office occupants and dwellers will probably intensify in the area, developers say they are not worried and feel that both will work to attract more people.

Roppongi Hills, developed by Mori Building Co., has epitomized Japan’s new wealth as rapidly growing companies set up headquarters in the complex after it opened in April 2003.

The business-residential complex includes the 238-meter-high Mori Tower, a cinema complex, shops, art galleries and office and residential buildings, as well as the Grand Hyatt Tokyo and Mohri Garden.

Between its opening and last March, 44 million people — 110,000 per weekday — visited the complex, Mori Building said.

Roppongi Hills, however, is seeing an exodus of tenants to Tokyo Midtown.

Game maker Konami Corp. and human resources firm Goodwill Group Inc. will soon take up new quarters in Tokyo Midtown, and Internet firm Yahoo Japan Corp., which used to rent 5 1/2 floors in Mori Tower, is now renting only two floors while occupying 10 in Midtown Tower, which accommodates two-thirds of its employees.

But Yahoo Japan spokeswoman Akie Kikuchi said the move has nothing to do with the recent scandals associated with Roppongi Hills.

Scandals that seemed to mar Roppongi Hills’ cutting-edge image include an accident in 2004 in which a 6-year-old boy was killed when his head was crushed by an automatic revolving door, and the 2006 arrests of Livedoor Co. founder Takafumi Horie and financier Yoshiaki Murakami, whose firms used to be based there.

Yahoo’s Kikuchi said: “We were looking for new office space for two to three years, as we had projected the number of our employees would grow. Working together (in the same building) is best for enhancing communications among employees.”

Konami and Goodwill said the added space at Tokyo Midtown offered them the opportunity to consolidate business units scattered througout Tokyo.

Despite the exodus, Roppongi Hills faces no difficulty finding newcomers. Thanks to strong demand for business space, its office floors have been almost fully occupied, according to a spokesman for Mori Building.

Both Mitsui Fudosan and Mori Building officials said they don’t see each other as rivals.

“We basically pursue a prosperous coexistence,” said Masaki Kamiya, a spokesman for Mitsui Fudosan. “We want to plan joint events to make the Roppongi district more attractive.”

The two complexes can help transform the famed nightlife district known for its bars, clubs and eateries into a more upscale, entertainment locale for families and women, he said.

The two complexes are also jointly promoting what they call the Art Triangle Roppongi project publicizing three museums in the district — the National Art Center Tokyo, which opened in January just outside Nogizaka Station, Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills and Suntory Museum of Art, which opens Friday in Tokyo Midtown.

The two complexes will be able to help local businesses prosper and both Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown may enjoy a synergy effect, because more people will have reason to spend more time in the area, said Masami Kobayashi, an architect and professor at Meiji University in Tokyo.

However, he pointed out that people may grow bored with complexes boasting similar functions and facilities, and that the added traffic congestion and poor interaction expected by mainstream Roppongi residents may become sources of friction.

A longtime shop owner in the area who didn’t want to be identified said the rapid change has some residents worried about getting an influx of strangers to the area who have little affection for the district.

“This town will become noisier with various events (at Tokyo Midtown),” the shop owner said, fretting that some may not care what kinds of problems the district may suffer from such activities.

A similar concern was shared by businesses neighboring Roppongi Hills.

Tatsuo Sunaga, director of Azabu Juban Shopping Streets Promotion Union, which represents 120 shops and restaurants, said convenience stores and other chain stores have assumed places on the shopping street since Roppongi Hills opened in 2003.

“Roppongi Hills has brought more customers to our shopping streets and new shops have opened,” Sunaga said. “But now, we need to think about how we can maintain our traditional atmosphere.”