There are sights in all of Japan’s cities and towns that are one-of-a-kind, ranging from amazing high-tech buildings to castles, shrines and temples to shopping streets that are right out of the days of the Shoguns.
In Tokyo alone such one-of-a-kind places number in the hundreds if not thousands…and probably no one, including senior citizens born and raised in the city, has ever seen more than ten or fifteen percent of them. One of the newest of these extraordinary places is the Tokyo Sky Tree building complex on the northeast side of town.
Two sites that are familiar to virtually all Tokyoites and are within easy reach for visitors are the venerable Tokyo Tower and the two huge Ark Hills complexes in the Roppongi area.
Tokyo Tower, centrally located in Shiba Park and visible from the air if you fly into Tokyo International Airport and from any high-rise building in the city, was constructed in the mid-1900s and became an instant visitor attraction because of its ground-floor shops and its high 360-degree Observation Deck that provided a bird’s eye view of the city.
The tower — the world’s tallest self-supporting steel structure — featured in movies, promoted in guidebooks, magazines and newspapers, quickly became the iconic image of Tokyo — and in earlier times was one of the special places in Tokyo from which you could see Japan’s iconic snow-capped Mt. Fuji.
And then along came hundreds of high-rise buildings with observation decks, shops and restaurants that competed with Tokyo Tower, causing it to lose its special niche in the life of the city.
The iconic tower has since made a dramatic comeback, with a variety of new shops and services and longer opening hours. In a special move to attract and impress visitors from China, Korea and English-speaking countries the tower now features a colorful man-sized mobile robot guide named Tawabo that speaks Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean.
In the high-rise building complex category few places in the world compare with the Ark Hills complexes in Roppongi, a low-hill district in central Tokyo that became noted in the 1960s as an entertainment district with dozens of cabarets, bars and restaurants lining its maze of streets.
In the last two decades real estate giant Mori Building Company has created two huge business-residential-shopping complexes in Roppongi under its “Ark Hills” brand name that are sights to see and experience.
These two vast complexes are designed to be “communities,” with all of the facilities and services that one would expect to find in an all-inclusive town or city — from business offices, residential areas, hotels, dozens of shops and restaurants to music halls.
The latest of these two huge developments, the Ark Hills Sengokuyama complex, incorporates the “community” concept in an advanced sense, with landscaped areas, walkways and outdoor facilities to accommodate residents and visitors.
Mori Building has also initiated other projects in the same general area of Tokyo that are designed to be communities instead of just places to work, shop and relax.
This extraordinary approach to rebuilding large sections of Tokyo as communities came in part from the vision of Minoru Mori, legendary founder of Mori Building who died recently, and now brought to fruition by his successor Shingo Tsuji, the current president.
Tsuji says that creating a city with a heart and soul cannot be done just by erecting buildings.
Mori Building is also active abroad, having completed a number of similar community complexes overseas. One of my good friends, Yoshio Karita, formerly the protocol officer for the Imperial family, is Senior Executive Advisor to Mori Building, and has played a leading role in its expansion abroad.
Mori is not the only builder that is transforming the appearance and character of Tokyo. Mitsubishi Estate Company and Mitsui Fudosan Company are also actively rebuilding areas in the Otemachi and Marunouchi districts adjoining Tokyo Central Station.
Editor's note: Boyé Lafayette De Mente (1928-2017) first came to Japan in 1949 as a member of the occupation forces. He held a degree in economics and Japanese from Tokyo's Sophia University, and a BFT from the American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, Arizona.
He was best known as the author of a highly successful series of books on social and business customs in Japan, China, Korea and Mexico. As a journalist with the Japan Times, and later on as editor of 'The Importer Magazine,' he witnessed at close hand the rapid growth of Asia's 'tiger' economies. His guidelines to westerners wishing to do business in the new post-war Japan were widely recognized as ground-breaking.
I am indebted to Mr. De Mente for sending the above article to republish here in Japan Perspectives.