City Breaks: To find cool Tokyo, tap Marunouchi into a GPS

The formerly dull financial district has become the hippest place to hang out in Japan's capital. Susie Rushton finds out why

Waiting at the kerb with the other obedient pedestrians, I asked a young woman for directions to the Shin-Marunouchi building, one of Tokyo's new breed of urban malls. She pulled out a regular-looking mobile phone, punched in the name and switched to GPS, which displayed a digital map of the area, our location and the destination. Damn, that was good.

But even the Japanese don't yet have mobile software that can map the ever-shifting geography of cool in their capital. So you'll have to imagine the southwesterly drift that has happened in Tokyo over the past decade, as those looking for more sophisticated ways to shop, eat and then shop a little more shifted from Harajuku to Aoyama, on to Shibuya and out to the low-rise hipster district of Naka-Meguro. South of the centre, mega-malls have also sprung up - most notably Midtown, which has its own world-class design museum.

But stemming that westerly tide is a retail revitalisation in the formerly dull financial district of Marunouchi, in the east of central Tokyo. Its name means "within the [castle] walls". A forest of 700ft-high silver office towers, it is bordered by the Imperial Palace's moat, which teems with koi carp, and the immaculate formal gardens - the most green you'll see in Tokyo, not counting the seaweed in your miso.

At first, Marunouchi doesn't appear to offer much in the way of shopping or, indeed, any type of fun. It could be downtown Houston or Canary Wharf. The spine of the district is Naka-dori, a street already home to international fashion brands including Armani, Gaultier and Marni. But try going inside, or even right underneath the apparently joyless skyscrapers to see the future of urban shopping. Spend an afternoon here, staying on for dinner, and you'll find out why it's the city's hottest hangout.

The best place to start is the subway at Tokyo station. Most visitors pass through to board the bullet train, but inside the JR terminus complex is the revamped Daimaru department store, a 14-floor playground inside the North Tower of the Twin Towers complex. It's the place to buy cosmetics: the first floor has 46 different beauty counters.

Daimaru is one of several new retail magnets in the area. Towards Marunouchi's borders with Ginza, to the south, the Marronnier Gate centre is worth visiting for its five-storey haberdashery, Ginza Hands. Browse the expensive chopsticks and Swarovski-crystal studded portable ashtrays. (Tokyo smokers carry their cigarette butts.)

If luxury pangs aren't sated, take afternoon tea in the lobby of the 24-storey Peninsula Hotel, which glows like a lantern at the corner of the palace gardens, at the south edge of Marunouchi. It's as pricey as you'd expect from an establishment that offers guests airport transfers in a Rolls-Royce - but the champagne tea does finish with foie gras lollipops.

The Peninsula's gleaming towers, designed to resemble a lantern, are dwarfed by the twin edifices that dominate the area: the 7,000ft Marunouchi building, constructed in 1923, and Shin-Marunouchi, which opened this winter. While the upper 30 floors of the latter are offices, the lower seven offer fashion and feasting so sophisticated as to make Selfridges look like a pound shop.

It's early evening when I arrive at the base of the Shin-Marunouchi: prime shopping time. The salarymen have just knocked off. Neat professional women are browsing for prepared meals. I follow a stream of them down into the building's basement, the grocery floor. Down here, at dozens of sparkling counters, the gourmet's every caprice is catered for: caramel jam, jewel-like chestnut and green tea sweets, authentic Viennese cafe latte, a "bread bar", selling mini profiteroles for £3 a pop.

Heading upwards, to the triple-height ground-floor lobby, the focus turns to fashion. United Arrows, the excellent Japanese multi-brand clothing shop, has a big branch here. The selection caters to the preppy-minded hipster, a sizeable constituency in Tokyo. Western-sized female hips and male shoulders might preclude the purchase of any garments, but the accessories have one-size-fits-all appeal.

Walking the looping routes around the next three floors - which house fashion, beauty and design stores - is a sexy experience. The lights are low, the marble floors very shiny. This is where young professional couples hang out, halting their promenade only to sit on velvet chaise-longues and hold hands.

The fourth, fifth and sixth floors are a banquet of exclusive restaurants offering yakitori, soba and tempura, along with Italian and French choices. This is not the mediocre "food court" of Western malls; a traditional multi-course kaiseki meal of sashimi, vegetables, seafood and rice can easily cost £60 a head - and that's a casual counter-style place.

The seventh floor is cosiest: called Marunouchi House, it's a small complex of eight bars with a private-club atmosphere. Post-splurge, drink at the Rigoletto Wine and Bar, watching ultra-violent yakuza movies on the big screen. At almost midnight, the retail levels now shuttered, the foodie floors are still peopled by businessmen. This building's motto is "everything for the office worker", suggesting both the rewards and numbing exhaustion of the Japanese work-ethic - but there's plenty of happy shopping for daytrippers, too.



Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3861; offers five nights' room-only at the Keio Plaza in Japan from £1,039 per person, based on two sharing, including flights with Virgin Atlantic and transfers.

Shop local: the top five

COMME DES GARÃCONS 3-4-1 Marunouchi (00 81 3 3218 152) An outpost of Rei Kawakubo's avant-garde design empire. Smaller budgets will stretch to her purses and perfumes.

MUJI 3-8-3 Marunouchi (00 81 3 5208 8241) The minimal-minded home-ware brand is best experienced on home turf. Stay for a healthy lunch at Meal Muji.

CABANE DE ZUCCA 2-3-2 Marunouchi ( Browse Japanese designer Akira Onozuka's workwear-inspired clothing and collectable watches.

BEAMS HOUSE 2-4-1 Marunouchi (00 81 3 52 208 686; The ground floor of the Marunouchi Building belongs to a big branch of this hip home-grown fashion boutique.

CL4LA 1-5-1 Marunouchi ( CA4LA, pronounced "ca-shi-la", is the pick of the Japanese millinery stores. Try out the beanies, trilbies and berets.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week