Tokyo skyline soaring to new heights

Visitors watch Tokyo's skyline view from the observation deck of the Mori Tower Monday, June 17, 2019, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

TOKYO (The Straits Times/ANN) — Japan’s tallest skyscraper will dominate Tokyo’s city skyline in March 2023, with developer Mori Building on Thursday unveiling a new mega-project on the fringe of the glitzy Roppongi district.

The development, which has been 30 years in the making, has tentatively been dubbed the Toranomon-Azabudai project and will cost about 580 billion yen (S$7.5 billion), Mori Building’s chief executive officer Shingo Tsuji said.

“Amid stiff competition with other international cities, it is important to rejuvenate Tokyo with such developments so as to enhance the city’s attractiveness in its bid to woo talent, investment and assets,” he said, as he stressed that demand is set to grow even after next year’s Olympic Games.

Tokyo’s real estate market is already booming, with residential land prices having risen for six straight years and an office vacancy rate of under 3 per cent.

Mr Tsuji is not alone in being bullish on the property market, as developers from Tokyu Land to East Japan Railway Company and Nomura Real Estate are behind other projects in youth hub Shibuya, business centre Shinagawa and the entertainment district of Shinjuku.

Mori is behind the “Hills” brand of properties that include Omotesando Hills, Roppongi Hills and Toranomon Hills. It also runs teamLab Borderless, the renowned digital art collective’s museum in Odaiba that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga lauded on Monday as a model for future tourism.

Many of Mori’s properties are mixed-use developments with residences, ample green spaces, retail outlets, as well as cultural facilities like museums or galleries.

Toranomon-Azabudai will have 1,400 homes and 150 retail outlets, as well as 213,900 sq m of office space and 9,000 sq m of museum space.

It will also house a luxury hotel and an international school, said Mr Tsuji, adding that it is “aimed at revitalising a large area of central Tokyo” that is littered with old wooden houses and buildings in bad shape.

The idea sprouted as early as 1989 but Mori’s representatives spent years knocking on doors to persuade residents and property owners to give up their land in exchange for residential space in the new development.

This was one reason the project took so long, Mr Tsuji admitted, adding that macroeconomic challenges such as the bursting of the bubble economy and the 2008 financial crisis were also factors.

The site spans 8.1ha, including about 2.4ha of greenery. Its centrepiece main building, at 64 storeys, will be as tall as the capital’s second tallest structure – Tokyo Tower, at 330m.

It will overtake the 300m Abeno Harukas in Osaka as Japan’s tallest building, at least until 2027, when a 390m high-rise near Tokyo station by Mitsubishi Estate is completed.

Mori expects some 25 million to 35 million visitors to Toranomon-Azabudai each year, with some 20,000 office workers and 3,500 residents expected to work or live in what it dubs as a “city within a city”.

Singapore architect Soo K. Chan of SCDA Architects, who was behind developments like SkyTerrace@Dawson, is involved in the residential interior design.

Toranomon-Azabudai will be powered by renewable energy sources and have its own dedicated power stations to ensure disaster resilience, Mr Tsuji said.

Still, while property developers are optimistic in Tokyo, the Nikkei newspaper reported yesterday that depopulation fears elsewhere have prompted smaller cities like Kobe and Sapporo to ban high-rise condominiums in their city centres.

This is to protect their suburban areas from becoming ghost towns.

Population data this year shows only five out of Japan’s 47 prefectures registering an increase in resident numbers as the rest of Japan starts to hollow out. They are Tokyo and the neighbouring prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa, as well as Okinawa.

“The nightmare scenario is that some years into the future, the city centre will suddenly be filled with old people, while suburban areas are depopulated and ruined,” Kobe city mayor Kizo Hisamoto was quoted as saying.

By Walter Sim