Tokyo Midtown and Throwaway Mega-Development

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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.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
March 22, 2007

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

25 Responses

  1. Soren Kierkegaard Says:

    Marxy, when will you do nude blogging like Momus, and what are your thoughts on anal sex?

  2. bhauth Says:

    You better stay away from Dubai. Your head might explode.

  3. joseph Says:

    I’m shocked that a Japanese company would attempt to blatantly copy a successful product!

    They are all wasting their time anyways; no elevator will ever match the blacklight terror of Sunshine 60.

  4. marxy Says:

    “You better stay away from Dubai.”

    It may not be a coincidence that Tokyo and Dubai have the same kind of development culture.

  5. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    Maybe we need more of this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolist_Movement

    Hold on, I must go “belt out a good tune to close a business deal.”

  6. Adamu Says:

    Puke. Maybe Tokyo needs more of this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_Liberation_Front

  7. trevor Says:

    well i don’t like big developments. tokyo still seems more organic and natural then say. nyc.. witch sorta has a brick and concrete alleys feeling imo.

  8. john Says:

    People in all NYC neighborhoods who have lived there for some long period of time (Id say around 5 years) are very vocal and harsh to radical change. Look at the Atlantic Yards project, for one. Or the gentrification of Williamsburg/Lower East Side/Chelsea/Hells Kitchen for another.

    At least the people in Shimotokizawa care about their neighborhood, the denizens of Roppongi (who seem to always be Yakuza whenever they are talked about) know they can profit from the new construction.

  9. Brad Says:

    Call me the next time you go for Subway with Rory. I’d like to meet that guy! He seems like a laff riot.

  10. Terry Says:

    His surname doesn’t really have the accents (his father was an unaccented Canadian footballer). I guess it just looks swishier with a circumflex.

  11. Aceface Says:

    I’m cozy with my longtime hometown of Kichijyouji partly because it got Harmonica Yokocho(alleys).That old remnant of the black market is the one of the very charm of Kichijyouji.
    Though one of my elementary school class mate and now a local chamber of commerce member told me that Kichijyouji had not attracted new large sacale investment for a decade and there is a move for those among the chamber who want to attract Omotesando Hills-like shopping complex.There used to be 6 department store in Kichijyouji 30 years ago and now there is 4 left but they still want shopping complex!.

  12. Brown Says:

    Rory, you know that Metabolist Kisho Kurokawa is running for governor of Tokyo, right? If he wins, he’d be Tokyo’s first explicitly Delezuean governor! He’s got a whole book of theory online here:

    http://www.kisho.co.jp/

    Though if the whole city winds up looking as busted as his Nakagin capsule building did the last time I saw it, that wouldn’t be so hot. That place has seen better days. But I’m glad he’s against the Olympics! This election is shaping up to be quite interesting. Any of the challengers would be preferable to Ishihara, and he’s already having to justify his actions more than usual, with their scrutiny.

    Also, I hate Roppongi Hills and the construction state as much as the next guy, but you’ve gotta admit, the view from the top of the Mori Bldg is awesome- especially at night! Surely many of us have a stereotypical inner science fiction fan/child somewhere in our hearts who can marvel at that view.

    Aceface, やっぱり you’re 中央線っぽい! The very appeal of places like Kichijoji and Shimokita is that they are the antitheses of top-down megaprojects like Roppongi or Omotesando, isn’t it? Might be a truer metabolism than Metabolism…

  13. marxy Says:

    “The very appeal of places like Kichijoji and Shimokita is that they are the antitheses of top-down megaprojects like Roppongi or Omotesando, isn’t it?”

    No coincidence then that I also live near Kichijoji.

    “Surely many of us have a stereotypical inner science fiction fan/child somewhere in our hearts who can marvel at that view.”

    I loved that view when it was from Sunshine 60 as well. I don’t know if Tokyo Midtown view is going to be much different.

  14. Aceface Says:

    Odaiba,Dubai.Sounds like an anagram.
    I agree that both cities defintely share same kind of development culture,however Tokyo’s new big project has no grand strategy nor ambition to make Tokyo a global city,probably due to the absence of the ultimate draft person like the emir of Dubai.And that is where Ishihara and Kurokawa’s shared aspiration(though heading to the wrong direction) are coming from.

    Brown:
    I’m definitly Chuou line kind of a guy.But one thing is that Chuou line was built with an attempt to make suburb for Tokyoite,therefore Kichijyouji is the derivation of a sort of Japanese way of city planning which is railway-department combinations.So they are in a way related to the top down megaproject.

    And I also believe large scale investment does do good for Tokyo city culture even in the case of Ikebukuro.Yeah Sunshine 60 was a failure(however I was one of the mole rats there in the late 80’s when my school was in Oizumi of Seibu Ikebukuro line)but what about WAVE,PARCO,LIBRO and SAISON MUSEUM OF MODERN ART?They are all now gone with Tsutsumi Seiji,but nonetheless the fact that certain subculture that represent the zeitgeist was built upon corporate investment remains.
    And speak of such you can say the same about Shibuya for the youth culture there is definitely the biproduct of Seibu-Tokyu competition.You have so many Kogals in Center-gai,for there is 109 and Shibuya-kei culture partly for the presence of Parco and WAVE.Even the now global Tokyo icon of the Hachiko-intersection is probably due to the TSUTAYA’s gigantic walled panel displays.

    So it will all be depend on who would be the main actor of the process in metabolism of the place like Tokyo midtown,whether it will be more resident-consumer based or developer-DENTSU based.

  15. Chris_B Says:

    Wait… Tokyo has a “midtown” now? When did this happen?

  16. Mulboyne Says:

    Given that many foreigners disparage Roppongi, it would be interesting to know whether people here think the redevelopment of the place is making it a better or worse place.

    Incidentally, Marxy, I see your recent clast piece is on Leon. Have you had a look at Kishida’s new magazine project “Zino”?

  17. Mulboyne Says:

    Forgot the link

    http://www.kicl.jp/

  18. nate Says:

    Perhaps there’s something to disdain in the construction impulse, but I don’t see the harm. Should there be only one tall building in any city?

    I think the american mall or the Best Buy/ Home Depot centered shopping center is at least twice the eyesore without providing a whit of worthwhile or unique experience or product.

  19. marxy Says:

    You may be right that horizontal sprawl is much worse than vertical sprawl. In few of these mega-development cases do the original areas look better than the fancy new architecture. I think my problem is one more of principle.

    I disagree that the Seibu/Tokyu rivalry of Shibuya caused Loft, Parco, Wave, etc. That was just the genius vision of Tsutsumi Seiji himself. Of course he had rivals, but the central driver for him was retail rather than just purely real estate like Mitsui or Mori.

  20. Aceface Says:

    “I disagree that the Seibu/Tokyu rivalry of Shibuya caused Loft, Parco, Wave, etc.”

    Well,I’ll still stick with Tokyu-Seibu rivaly,for first there was Tokyu department in town and Seibu built their own franchise to break into the monopoly.Then they built Parco and Tokyu built 109 in return,Then there was Tokyu Hands getting all the nitche needs and Seibu built LOFT to strike back….
    Tokyu used to have proto-multiplex,Tokyu bunkakaikan with 4 screens movie theater with record shops and a planetarium.Seibu built mini theaters that assorted with WAVE to compete in the battle for Audio Visual software markets in the 80’s…

    ” the central driver for him was retail rather than just purely real estate like Mitsui or Mori”
    That I do not disagree.

  21. marxy Says:

    Nice illustration of the Seibu-Tokyu battle. I stand corrected.

    Interesting though that all the Seibu stuff is very high-taste and the Tokyo stuff tends to be lo-taste. Besides Hands, I guess. But there could not be a larger difference between Parco and 109.

  22. Aceface Says:

    Seibu-high,Tokyu-low:
    Though I agree in general,however I found BUNKAMURA is quite something.I go to DEUX MAGOT time to time knowing the place is a bit too much francophilia.(There were some good French style cafe in the mid 90’s around Shibuya and Omotesando,but now all gone).And Kichijyouji Tokyu had change dramatically for good and now better than ISETAN,while SEIBU in general is dull and boring everywhere.

  23. marxy Says:

    Am I right to assume that Seibu got boring as soon as Seiji Tsutsumi left? Because his legacy seems to be all but gone. On the high fashion side, Isetan strikes me as having stole their thunder.

  24. Aceface Says:

    Partly,and probably because of SEIBU is now in the hand of more profit minded people.SEIBU’s charm was coming from all these aura of “culture”created by lots of media strategy relating Ad company(maynot be DENTSU,but HAKUHOUDO,perhaps)
    And I wouldn’t put everything on Tsutsumi’s personal cult,for Parco was the brainchild of a chap named Matsuda,however it was Tsutsumi who let the dude do as he likes all the way.

    Isetan:
    is more of a high budget select shop and not a avant-garde like SEIBU under Saison banner as a retailer.
    Reminds me of my school days at Keio back in the early 90’s that I knew Tsutsumi Seiji’s son briefly for he was in my “circle” and Isetan’s CEO’s daughter who was in my French class.Tsutsumi junior was a fine gentle lad and
    Isetan’s princess,a Paris Hiltonesque character.
    That I think tells all.

  25. Aceface Says:

    Isetan and Tokyu joins hand in hand.
    From Reuters:
    http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20070326-00000520-reu-bus_all