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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Tokyo complex targeting rich

By Yuri Kageyama
Associated Press

Minoru Mori, chief executive of Tokyo's giant developer Mori Building Co., presents a model of the Roppongi Hills project set to open in April in Tokyo's Roppongi district, an area infamous for prostitution and shady foreigners. The complex of office buildings, shops and restaurants promises to be on the scale of New York's Rockefeller Center.

Associated Press

TOKYO — Hustling beneath garish neon lights, sidewalk solicitors coax pedestrians to sleazy hostess bars squeezed between massage parlors and striptease joints. Homeless men slump in the subway station.

Tokyo's Roppongi district, infamous for prostitution and shady foreigners, is about to get a much needed facelift with Roppongi Hills — a sprawling complex of office buildings, shops and restaurants set to open in April that promises to be on the scale of the New York City landmark Rockefeller Center.

Expansive enough to fit eight baseball fields, Roppongi Hills is by far Tokyo's most ambitious development in recent years.

What will remain unchanged for the area is its foreign clientele.

Instead of the lowlife loitering around today, the project by Tokyo's giant developer, Mori Building Co., is courting the top crust of the foreign population — such as the on-the-go traders at Goldman Sachs and the computer-savvy at Yahoo Japan, both tenants at the main office building, a tower of glistening glass.

The marketing appeal of Roppongi Hills is its exclusivity. It's not for everybody and is marketing a sense of privilege.

Rent for the residential buildings, which feature interiors by Conran and Partners of Great Britain, start at about $2,400 a month for a tiny studio apartment to more than $32,000 for larger condominiums — outrageous even by Tokyo's pricey standards.

Residents will have their own medical clinic, swimming pool and gym. The staff will speak English as well as Japanese. School buses from major international schools will service the area.

The diplomats at some 60 embassies in the area are expected to frequent the members-only club on the 51st floor of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower to enjoy a spectacular view of the city lights, including nearby Tokyo Tower that looks surprisingly dwarfed.

There's nothing dwarfed about the fee for joining the club — $23,000.

For business and well-to-do travelers, Roppongi Hills offers the 390-room Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel, which charges $3,800 a night for its most expensive "presidential" suite, with a private rooftop swimming pool within a Japanese garden. The cheapest room costs $370 a night.

Everything stays open after-hours to serve the jet setters who work hard and play hard.

Even the museum is open until 10 p.m. The movie theater run by Virgin Cinemas, seating 2,100 people, stays open until 5 a.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Except for discounters, Japanese stores usually close at 8 p.m. and the last movie showing is at 7 p.m., making it almost impossible for an office worker to enjoy cultural events.

But Roppongi Hills' biggest strength may be its biggest weakness.

By opting for an elitist Westernized environment — sterile facades and monumental size — the place ends up with little that's uniquely Japanese. The Japanese-style garden with a pond scattered with rocks, restored to duplicate the one in a samurai's home, is the solitary exception.

The ambiance everywhere is cosmopolitan. The retail section boasts a lineup of luxury brands — Bally, Christian Lacroix, Hugo Boss, Max Mara — the same names that dot the shopping streets of New York or Paris.

Roppongi Hills will also be competing against similar plush Mori offerings in Tokyo, such as the 1986 Ark Hills, which has a concert hall with superb acoustics, and the Atago Green Hills, an office and residential complex finished last year.

The competition doesn't stop there.

Tokyo has been undergoing such a development rush lately, new office-hotel-retail areas are popping up almost everywhere one turns.

And the Hills will remain just blocks away from a sobering reality — the rest of dumpy, down-and-out Roppongi.

Mori Building Chief Executive Minoru Mori isn't worried.

"People will feel they can't die without having visited here once," he said during a recent news media tour of Roppongi Hills. "It will become the ultimate destination for people all over the world."