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Friday, Dec. 8, 2006
Sitting on the dock of the bay
Lots in store at Tokyo's largest mall
By MARTIN WEBB
Occupying a space comparable to that of Tokyo Dome, the newly opened Urban Dock LaLaport Toyosu is officially Tokyo's largest shopping mall.
Constructed on the site of a former dock on Tokyo Bay, the massive complex covers about 10 hectares and houses 190 stores, eateries and service providers.
The shopping at LaLaport, which opened Oct. 5, is unlikely to blow your mind -- unless you're the type who's never been to GAP, UNIQLO or HMV -- so it's a good thing that there are many things to do here besides just browsing stores. And that makes it an ideal day-trip for all the family during the forthcoming winter vacation.
One inclusion that has attracted a huge amount of media attention is Kidzania, a career role-playing amusement park for youngsters aged 2 to 12. Kidzania aims to give children a taste of what it's like to be a doctor, policeman, firefighter, pizza chef, bank teller, radio DJ or any of the 50 other jobs that adult instructors give inductions into at kidsize reproductions of the grownup world of work.
Youngsters with any energy left after their "work" can frolic around in the extensive landscaped areas surrounding the building, which include a garden designed by Belgian flower artist Daniel Ost, who has also created several sculptures for the mall's interior.
Besides weaving in and out of Ost's canoe-shaped mounds and saplings, an undulating concrete plaza and various port-themed pieces of public art provide plenty of opportunities for youngsters to play outdoors.
There's also fun to be had inside the mall, with a Hello Kitty-themed amusement arcade and a cluster of shops for children, including Snoopy Town and Danish toy store Bornelund.
Teenage boys (and grownup nerds) are sure to love Asobit City, a hobby store with a window display featuring costumes from the Superman and Batman movie series and thousands of hard-to-find toys and games inside.
There are also several kid-friendly restaurants here, including Bubba Gump, a Hawaiian buffet restaurant and homey pasta place Ducky Duck.
Other features that make LaLaport a fun day out are the United Cinemas movie theater, which boasts Tokyo's largest screen and a swanky private lounge; a small art gallery devoted exclusively to ukiyo-e; and a huge 19th-century pipe organ imported from England, which attracts large crowds whenever the professional organist is around to run off a couple of grand tunes.
LaLaport also hosts a sports gym, music academy, a day spa, relaxation lounge and various other non-retail tenants, but of course, this being a mall, there is lots of shopping to be done, too.
The local residents of Koto Ward -- deprived of the kind of department stores that many in Tokyo take for granted -- will no doubt appreciate the addition of a Tokyu Hands and large Kinokuniya bookstore, as well as interior stores from Actus, FrancFranc and In The Room. But there's little here that can't be found elsewhere.
Where the mall does excel is in its strong lineup of adventure sports retailers, including Helly Hansen, L.L. Bean, Roxy and Beach Sound, which specializes in the surfing brand Bodyglove.
One store worthy of attention is Urban Research Doors, where tasteful, cozy-looking clothing made from organic fabrics is on sale alongside organic foods, interior goods, stationery and natural skin care products.
Japanophiles will no doubt be drawn to Okichi Hiroba, a store offering a wide selection of Japanese-style interior knickknacks, and to Coto Deco, an interiors store run by Kyoto-based ceramics wholesaler Tachikichi.
From sushi to sukiyaki, there are many Japanese-style restaurants here, as well as establishments offering Chinese, Italian, Indian, Korean, Hawaiian and Indonesian cuisine.
Those with a penchant for the unusual might want to patronize the cafe specializing in Singaporean French toast, while the determinedly unadventurous can rest assured that there is a fully functioning branch of Starbucks.
LaLaport's location by Tokyo Bay offers impressive views of Rainbow Bridge and the sprawling city either side of the bay. To experience the full visual impact it has to offer, the mall is best visited by Himiko, the futuristic ferry designed by anime mastermind Leiji Matsumoto.
Taking the Tokyo Water Cruise from Asakusa to Toyosu along the Sumida River is not the only way to get to this mammoth mall, but it is a great way to view Tokyo's urban landscape in preparation for an afternoon's shopping -- children in tow, of course.
Urban Dock LaLaport Toyosu, 2-4-9 Toyosu, Koto-ku is a 3-min. walk from Toyosu Station on the Yurakucho Line (tel.  6910-1234). Shops are open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m., with restaurants open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.