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Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009

FYI

ROPPONGI HILLS

As status symbol, it tops the rest

Roppongi Hills an allure for the trendy, the scandalous, and those curious about both


Staff writer

The commercial-residential complex of Roppongi Hills opened six years ago, boasting offices, a museum, cinema, condominiums, restaurants and shops, becoming a popular tourist destination and a high-status residence in a part of central Tokyo otherwise known for its nightlife dens.

News photo
From the sky: A bird's eye view of Roppongi Hills. MORI BUILDING

The complex became a symbol of developer Mori Building Co.'s concept of an urban center of work, culture and residence coexisting. Visitors continue to come for the movies and the fine dining, as well as the shopping at the many luxury brand boutiques. The complex is also a favorite hangout after work for employees of the tenant companies in the 54-story Roppongi Hills Mori Tower.

Following are questions and answers about Roppongi Hills:

What are some basic statistics on Roppongi Hills?

The complex opened April 25, 2003. It has about 20,000 people working in offices, restaurants and shops and 2,000 residents. The site sees about 40 million visitors a year, or some 100,000 a day during weekdays and 130,000 on weekends, according to Mori Building.

What does Roppongi Hills encompass?

The complex covers 11.6 hectares, or about half of Roppongi 6-chome. It includes Mori Tower, Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel, Toho Cinemas, the TV Asahi headquarters, residential buildings and other structures. It also has Mouri Garden with trees and ponds.

How did the Roppongi Hills project come about?

Around 1980, TV Asahi, which occupied what is now the central part of Roppongi Hills, decided it needed a new headquarters building. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government was meanwhile looking for ways to modernize a densely packed area known for small houses and business establishments, and narrow streets that offered difficult access to fire engines.

In 1986, the metropolitan government formally designated the area for redevelopment. Tokyo and TV Asahi consulted Mori Building, which came up with the project later that year.

Why did 17 years pass from the start of the project to the opening of Roppongi Hills?

It took 15 years alone for Mori Building to complete negotiations with some 500 people who lived in the demarcated site. They had to reach agreement on details of the project. Ultimately, 400 of them moved into condominiums in the new complex and 100 left the area, Mori Building spokesman Tomohiro Akita said. Construction began in 2001.

Why has the number of visitors been declining?

Fiscal 2003 saw some 45 million visitors to the complex, but that number had gradually slipped to 40 million by fiscal 2008.

As the newness wore off and even newer trendy complexes cropped up, particularly Tokyo Midtown, the drop in visitors is no surprise, Akita said, but Mori Building will try to hold the number at around 40 million by staging various events to keep people coming.

"About 80 percent who come are repeat visitors, so it is important to come up with ingenious ways to keep them engaged," he said.

Mori Building strives to keep abreast of visitors' biographical profiles and changes its store lineup accordingly, he said. Of the 220 shops in Roppongi Hills, 80 were replaced in spring 2008.

Does Tokyo Midtown draw visitors away from Roppongi Hills?

Yes, to an extent. The commercial complex, also containing a hotel, offices, condominiums, a museum, restaurants, bars and other facilities, opened nearby in March 2007, and is still somewhat fresh. But it also lends to the Roppongi district's overall attractiveness, and this benefits Roppongi Hills as well, Akita said.

"No other stations have two places equivalent to Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown than Roppongi Station. So when people want to go to Roppongi, they go to both places in one day," he said.

While there is no hard evidence to show whether Roppongi Hills or Tokyo Midtown siphon off each other's visitors, operators of facilities in the two complexes are working to compliment each other.

Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills, Suntory Museum of Art in Tokyo Midtown and the National Art Center, Tokyo, another museum near the station, offer discounts to visitors of more than one of the three museums. For example, visitors who have a Mori Arts Center Gallery ticket receipt can enter the other two museums at a discount.

What makes Roppongi Hills famous?

Tenants of Mori Tower from the start were known as "kachigumi" (winners). Some of them, particularly Livedoor Co. founder Takafumi Horie and his conviction for insider trading, gave the complex further notoriety through scandal.

Akita believes even negative publicity has been beneficial because people associated the name Roppongi Hills with the media hype and came to consider the site a good place to hang out.

What key events take place at Roppongi Hills?

The Tokyo International Film Festival is held at Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills every October. Also, there are many seasonal events every year, including for Christmas and Halloween.

Christmas trappings include illuminations starting this month and the Holy Night Concert at Roppongi Hills Arena, an open space where concerts and other events are basically free, during the evening between Dec. 22 and 25.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk


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