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Friday, June 9, 2006

OLINAS KINSHICHO

Breezy mall brightens up a down-at-heel district

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The exterior of Olinas Kinshicho

As home to myriad love hotels, hostess bars and seedy nightlife establishments, Kinshicho in Tokyo's Sumida Ward has earned itself an unenviable reputation as a center of iniquity. Though it bustles after dusk, during the daytime, the east Tokyo town is an unremarkable shitamachi (downtown) district. While not an obvious choice of location for a swish new shopping center, developers saw fit to build one here, and on April 20, megamall Olinas opened its doors to the public.

The name, an acronym for "Organization of Lifestyle, New Business, Amenity, Shopping," sums up the development's contents, while the poster campaign -- depicting a leggy female silhouette surrounded by designer objects of desire -- communicates an upscale vibe that it only just succeeds in living up to.

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A view of the expansive interior

Combining an office building, Olinas Tower; two malls, Olinas Mall and Olinas Core; as well as an apartment block named Brilla Tower Tokyo, the complex is about a pleasant five-minute stroll through a sleepy public park from Kinshicho Station.

The buildings' glass facades and curvy, airy interiors are certainly impressive -- as to be expected from RTKL Associates, the top American architectural design firm responsible for projects like Dubai Marina, the NATO HQ in Brussels, the National Museum of China in Beijing and the U.S. Ambassador's Residence in Japan.

Olinas is a fundamentally kid-friendly complex: there is a Babies 'R' Us on the third floor of the Core building, which has interior retailer Simachu on the floor below and Comme Cca Store at ground level. Also of interest to parents are a handful of kids's clothing and toy stores, including kitsch trap Sanrio Gift Gate and a Disney Store, as well as a photo studio where loved ones can be snapped in a variety of cutesy costumes.

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A bird of homes in on some Evisu denim (top); mom and baby shopping; top shoes on display.
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Pooped parents can plop their young ones into a Character Cart -- a push-cart adorned with such lovable characters as Mickey, Minnie, Pooh, Thomas, Pikachu and Doraemon. On the third floor of the Mall building is a food court with pint-size tables and chairs so that moms and dads don't have to bother with high chairs.

For non-breeder types, a Toho cinema complex, Tower Records and over a dozen well-priced restaurants are the principle attractions, while plant-based cosmetics company Aveda's beauty salon Le Clic and eyewear specialist Poker Face might just tempt discerning types to part with hard-earned cash.

The Comme Cca Store carries a vast selection of its cheap and cheerful merchandise, including plenty of items from its popular Ism and Three Minutes Happiness ranges. It also houses a food court that offers frozen yogurt, ice cream, a bakery, Asian sweets and assorted cakes, in addition to a stylish Italian-style buffet restaurant.

Another highlight is natural cosmetics store Lush, which emanates a fruity smell that fills the outdoor space between the Mall and Core buildings, where mosaic benches, fountains and giant spindle-shaped sculptures make for a wonderful spot to take a breather from the exertion of mall frenzy.

In actual fact, there is very little sense of frenzy or rush at Olinas, except, perhaps in the Fashion Plaza zone on the first floor. Here jeans brands rule, with Evisu, Miss Sixty, Energie, Gas and Armani Jeans all vying for the attention of the teenage demographic with young and friendly shop assistants who seem like a very happy team.

Also set up in this area is Ruff & Tight, a fashion boutique with excruciatingly bad taste. Admittedly there are a few nice T-shirts and accessories from labels like Chloe, Marc Jacobs and Balenciaga, but no self-respecting fashionista would be seen dead shopping anywhere that stocks Chick by Nicky Hilton, the tacky clothing line from "it girl" Paris Hilton's less well-known sister.

While fashion snobs won't be thrilled at the lineup here, overall, Olinas is an attractive destination. For those residing in the east side of Tokyo it will doubtless prove to be a popular place for spending a laidback day out, and its classy feel will surely help Kinshicho to shake off its disreputable image.



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