The first stage of Azabudai Hills, a sprawling ‘city within a city’ in the Japanese capital, is open. We explore its shops, which offer everything from fashion to furniture, and see how the mixed-use development could provide a template for elevating urban life.
Grand in both scale and ambition, Azabudai Hills officially opened its doors for the first time in November 2023. A moment that was more than 30 years in the making, the opening marked a new phase for a mixed-use development that will eventually host approximately 20,000 employees and 3,500 residents across 8.1 hectares. The so-called “city within a city” in Tokyo’s bustling Toranomon business district will include education and healthcare facilities, along with museums, galleries, shops and restaurants. A focus on wellbeing and the environment is also set to shape the evolution of the development, which is powered entirely by renewable energy and is home to verdant public spaces.
The first stage included the opening of Mori JP Tower, the largest of the development’s three towers, which offers five floors of retail and restaurants next to a central square. When monocle visits the building on a crisp morning, Pelican Café is drawing a crowd with its freshly toasted shokupan and sandwiches, while eager shoppers wait patiently for the shops to open for business. By lunchtime, the restaurants, which range from sushi shops to Italian counter dining, are abuzz with a mix of workers and curious visitors from near and far. Casting an eye over the retail spaces on offer, monocle presents a handful of early finds from Tower Plaza on the following pages.
There will be more. Azabudai Hills Market launches in January and a wave of further openings are scheduled for spring. Pace Gallery will join a host of high-end retailers in the Heatherwick Studio-designed Garden Plaza, while Janu Tokyo, the first hotel under Aman’s new sister brand, will overlook the central plaza.
Monocle comment: The grand scale of the Azabudai Hills development – not to mention its attention to detail – speaks of its ambition to have a significant impact on life in Japan’s capital. Sometimes it pays to go all in.
Launched in November 2023, the debut collection of Tomorrowland’s menswear brand pairs smart tailoring with a hint of nostalgia. Leather flight jackets are joined by argyle knits in soft cashmere, while a collaboration with JM Weston has yielded loafers in crocodile and box-calf leather, and suede. The brand adds its own modern touches, paying homage to the classics and respecting the good old days.
On Tower Plaza’s second floor, the Maison et Voyage flagship shop brings the label to life in a space filled with hints of Paris and London, as well as antique display cases, artwork and other paraphernalia. It’s here that the brand’s offerings are presented alongside a selection of classic labels. Leather bags from Ghurka and the fine wares of Lock & Co Hatters line the shelves, while vintage eyewear, timepieces and accessories fill the showcases.
“This shop was created as a place where fun-loving grown-ups can enjoy creating a more sophisticated look,” says Tomorrowland’s Kohei Sugiyama. “It’s for the kind of person who, rather than simply travelling in a pair of sweats, wants to dress up with a tuxedo jacket or loafers to match their destination.”
A range of made-to-order services are offered in the in-store salon, with the selection of suits, shirts and other items bringing Tomorrowland’s expertise to the fore.“We propose a quiet luxury, based on the idea that instead of going out of our way to talk about brands, it’s simply about wearing clothes of the highest quality,” says Sugiyama.
Founded in 1942, Kyoto-based bookshop Ogaki Shoten selected Azabudai Hills as the site for their first outpost in Tokyo. Spanning almost 1,000 sq m, the bookshop’s four main sections feature shelves filled with publications. Designed by Gyoken’s Naoyuki Nomura, the book-themed interior includes quiet pockets for reading, along with gallery-style displays for exhibitions. An in-store café and bar, Slow Page, serves siphon coffee made with an in-house blend, along with whisky and curry rice.
“We aim to create reading spaces where people can relax, so we’re very particular about furniture and want to make the kind of shop where customers can stay for hours,” says assistant shop manager Kosuke Ogaki. “Our main concept is a bookshop that connects people with books. For example, there are many children in the Azabudai Hills area, so we decided to create a picture-book gallery. There are many children’s titles and all are individually chosen by one of our Kyoto-based staff.” Inside the gallery, the colourful line-up sees The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other English-language titles joining works by Japanese illustrators Tupera Tupera and Noritake, while everything from the plush carpet to the low-level displays and benches are designed with readers of all ages in mind. It’s a considered approach that reinforces the role that a bookshop can play within residential developments, catering to the needs of community members young and old.
The Conran Shop continues to win fans in Japan. Following the April 2023 opening of a Daikanyama shop, the first to be locally and independently managed, the Azabudai Hills outpost adopts a similar approach, presenting another fresh take on the retailer’s wares. Known as The Conran Shop Tokyo, the 1,300 sq m space is coloured with green, red and navy hues, with bold Tajimi-made tiles and timber flooring.
“The concept is standard but high quality; everyday but special,” says Shinichiro Nakahara, ceo of The Conran Shop Japan. “There’s an abundance of one-of-a-kind pieces, made in collaboration with Japanese makers and craftspeople, and made-to-order items, which are unique to Japan. We only select and present those products that [we feel] are truly essential.”
The Conran Shop’s seventh location in Japan also includes a new foray into the world of dining. Inspired by the late founder Terence Conran’s passion for food and entertaining, the 45-seat Orby restaurant was born. Led by head chef Makoto Konno, owner of Tokyo’s Uguisu and Organ, the restaurant combines modern French with elements of British cuisine. Konno brings his own style to dishes such as beef wellington, Welsh rarebit and Victoria sponge, incorporating seasonal produce from across Japan. “From the natural wine we serve to the fact we make everything in-house from scratch, there is a connection to The Conran Shop’s approach to craft,” says Konno.
The idea of the world’s largest walk-in wardrobe was the thought behind this new style of select shop by Parigot, a longstanding retailer based in Onomichi, Hiroshima. Inside, visitors are surrounded by a line-up of designer womenswear sourced from Paris, Milan and beyond, along with Japanese labels such as cfcl and Toga. “Azabudai Hills attracts people from various places but many of our visitors have a keen eye for fashion, fine-tuned over many years, or are looking to rediscover the fun of fashion,” says shop manager Yuta Suetsugu.
Creating a comfortable space for customers was paramount, resulting in an impressive line-up of collaborators from the world of interiors, design and music. Wonderwall’s Masamachi Katayama was tasked with the interior. “I designed it to evoke the sensation of peering into a private closet with a perfect collection, rather than a public retail space,” he says.
This attention to detail also extends to the music. Created by Toshio Matsuura, a former founding member of jazz and funk trio United Future Organisation, relaxing tunes ease customers into the day, gradually shifting in style and tempo as the day unfolds.
The shop’s format and premium offering marks a new retail model for the family-run company, which will celebrate its centenary in 2025. Plans are now under way to extend the concept to a men’s boutique, due to open in Ginza in spring 2024. Plenty to look forward to.