Jingumae crossing, where the Gap building once stood as an iconic meeting place in the heart of Tokyo's street-fashion mecca of Harajuku, has finally been resurrected with the opening of the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku — a "fashion theme park" offering seven floors of womenswear, menswear, accessories and other goods.
"Ever since we opened, every single day we are seeing more and more enthusiastic visitors really enjoying their shopping experience," said Jiro Okubo, the general manager of the plaza project, speaking shortly after its opening on April 18. "As an institution that enjoys this unparalleled location at the center of Japanese fashion culture, we are aiming to be instrumental as the hub that transmits this vibrant scene to the world."
Directly acknowledging the rise of Internet shopping and the challenge it poses to retail stores, Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku has focused on emphasizing a shopping experience that cannot be replicated online. Referencing the importance of meeting places and the greenery in the surrounding locale, the plaza has a public roof terrace, named Omohara Forest, which is dotted with trees and chairs and provides a spot where friends can congregate, relax and enjoy the view of the city. No doubt, the "forest" will become a popular gathering place for the fashionistas of Harajuku in the same way as the steps of Gap once was.
Other examples of innovation include the virtual changing room at Humor Shop by A-net Inc. who represent the likes of Tsumori Chisato and Zucca. Here, augmented reality is used to allow customers to visually "try on" an item of clothing and then share the video image on social media.
Lingerie shop Amo's Style by Triumph connects with its customers by asking them to vote on the interior design of its plaza space in a bid, it says, to create its "cutest shop ever," while another prescient move comes from Tokyo's Tokyo, a concept shop, which unusually combines anime and manga culture with fashion and other goods in tune with current trends.
Framing the 24 shops that make up the central plaza area is The Shel'tter Tokyo, the East-Asia Flagship of Tommy Hilfiger and the very first appearance of American Eagle Outfitters in Japan, the latter two presenting a thoroughly Western face of fashion to the Harajuku area.
The lineups of the American casual brands may seem somewhat subdued next to the youthful ebullience that characterizes the area, but let's not forget that American-casual style was the primary formative force behind the area in the 1960s through to the '80s. This is a return to origins rather than a new trend.
There is clearly room for further expansion on this U.S.-style front as the current American casual fashion scene is dominated by many brands, such as Hollister Co. and Urban Outfitters, that so far are lacking a substantial foothold in Japan. Given the ongoing currency that Ivy League preppy and American-heritage styles appear to have in the Japanese market — something that was evident at Tokyo Fashion Week — it's possible that such brands will eventually be introduced to Japan. Gap, for example, which has its new Harajuku home at the Takeshita entrance of Harajuku Station, just opened its first Old Navy Store in Odaiba's brand-new Diver City complex this month.
Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku has also taken on the American concept of First Friday events — free public celebrations and events that run on the first Friday of each month — something that is in line with what Okubo describes as the plaza's aim to integrate with and emphasize the rich history of its surrounding area.
The plaza's inaugural "First Friday Harajuku" on May 4 will celebrate fashion, art and music with a number of events in the area that will center on Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku. It is hoped that such a celebration every month will help not only boost the profile of the building, but also of its surrounding area. (S.T.)