World, you ready to envy? Your social superior Tyler Brule (add circumflex and accent aigu to the last word with your imagination) loves the new Roppongi super development project Tokyo Midtown. If you are thinking that Roppongi Hills was enough for this city — with its Starbucks, luxury hotel, Tokyo City View, J-wave radio station, and art museum — you are dead wrong. Tokyo Midtown offers visitors a completely different world: a five-star luxury hotel, a dramatic view of the city, an art museum, and a Starbucks complete with — get this — a radio station.
Those with a keen eye should have known that Tokyo Midtown was coming to Tokyo’s midtown. The Dentsu predictions for 2007 took the gamble to bet that Tokyo Midtown would be a huge media phenomenon — no doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy. Brutus has been doing a multi-part
paid-for advertorial feature on the complex for months now. If you thought Tokyo was a great city before Mitsui Fudosan decided to show their rivals in aristocratic brinkmanship that they could do luxury Roppongi way better, go ahead and kill yourself. When you get to Heaven, surely it will be look exactly like Tokyo Midtown.
Now Mr. Circumflex Aigu could be right — Tokyo Midtown could be incredible — but whether the features are spectacular or not, at what point do we citizens of Tokyo cease to be impressed with the constant escalation of massive developments? At some point, the Japanese media was abuzz with breathless anticipation about Sunshine 60 — a now-yellowing complex built in East Ikebukuro by the Seibu brothers on the haunted land of Sugamo Prison. Mori’s Ark Hills was a huge deal when it opened, but now it’s just a pedestrian place where I get my library books and eat bland Subway subs with Rory P. Wavecrest once-in-a-while. Remember Roppongi Hills? That glorious glass-and-concrete tribute to capital accumulation did not just fade into semi-obscurity, but celebrated an acute comeuppance when the princes of the castle (Sir Horie and Sir Murakami) got busted for financial misdealings. At least its perimeter was host to social conflict.
Reading the supplied descriptions of these developments reminds me of the original plans for EPCOT — utopian “cities within cities” to house, feed, employ, and entertain select communities. With Roppongi Hills, however, Mori only let Japan’s recently-emboldened upper classes into the gates. The investment bankers and New Economy brats in the Hills office space can enjoy the highest-priced apartments, the most prestigious hotel, a host of exclusive restaurants, or just go to the Heartland bar and pretend they are not in Japan. We untidy masses are given the chance to save up our measly earnings so we may visit, grab a tall latte, enjoy the art museum, watch a movie, and buy some things at inflated prices as long as we go home quickly and do not bother the VIPs who live there.
Not to be outdone, Mitsui Fudosan have now spent their billions to recreate the exact same experience a couple of blocks away, and as good consumers, we will throw away our Roppongi Hills lust and direct our eyes on even more concrete arranged in an even more-exclusive and awe-inspiring way. “Midtown-zoku”: A buzzword coming to a media outlet near you soon.
In an economy very literally centered around constant expansion through construction and real-estate development, we would be silly not to expect a Tokyo Midtown and even sillier not to expect Mori and his millions to take revenge at a new location in a few years’ time. This game between ancient royal families is a constant cycle and the central driver of Tokyo urban planning. Might makes right. Value is determined by simple addition. Bigger is better. No time for renovation or conservation. Destroy the community of Shimokitazawa to build an amazing new highway. Flatten the old yakuza drinking holes of Roppongi so that yakuza-backed construction agencies can get some new employment.
Build, use, discard, Tokyo.