TOKYO: Node Uehara – Corporate Developers Embrace Elevated Independence

A stylish new development in Tokyo’s increasingly vibrant Yoyogi Uehara district is challenging perceptions of projects initiated by Japan’s corporate giants. Node Uehara, opened at the end of May just outside Yoyogi Uehara station, is a dining-retail-residential-workspace development that perfectly distills its neighbourhood’s blend of upmarket refinement and artisanal earthiness. What has been surprising locals, however, is that it is the brainchild not of one of the hip, young “property production” companies that proliferate in Tokyo, but rather was conceived by the Odakyu Group, one of Japan’s main private rail operators and a major landowner.

Projects by rail companies are a key part of the retail scene across the country, with the shopping centres towering above key stations typically owned and operated by the companies running the railway below. JR, the country’s biggest rail operator, is behind the Lumine shopping-and-dining centres that attract concessions from fashionable chains both domestic and foreign, with Lumine Shinjuku housing United Arrows and Opening Ceremony amongst many others.

Node Uehara breaks this paradigm by giving a home to smaller businesses, employing the talents of some key creatives, that eschew major brand names in favour of low-key, artisanal and yet still highly upmarket brands. The latter has emerged as a key trend in independent Japanese retail over the past few years, targeting 30 to 50-somethings who have experienced brand name burnout after growing up in Japan’s high-growth “bubble economy” era, and partly due to a raised awareness of sustainability and ethical issues: the latter encapsulated by the popular acronym “LOHAS” (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability).

The two lower storeys of Node Uehara focus largely on food, with the first floor housing a combined cafe (offering naturally-produced local fare), cocktail bar, and “zakka” lifestyle shop/grocery overseen by Landscape Products, while down in the basement is a grill/dining room boasting an international menu put together by chef Masayo Funakoshi of acclaimed Kyoto restaurant Kiln.

Up above meanwhile the second and third floors offer some prime residential real estate, with use of the roof terrace for entertaining as a strong selling point. Finally, the uppermost fourth floor consists of rental office space tailored towards the creative and food industries.

Though still under the radar of many locals, Yoyogi Uehara and the adjacent Tomigaya/Kamiyama-cho district have been increasingly generating interest recently, with Monocle magazine relocating its Tokyo bureau and shop to the area late last year.

A refreshing change of approach in a city saturated with corporate developments equally jam-packed full of rather predictable big names, it remains to be seen whether Node Uehara marks the emergence of a new strategy for Japan’s landholding conglomerates, or will turn out to be an curious blip on one of the world’s most dynamic retail landscapes. –Darren Gore

Node Uehara

3-11-8 Nishihara, Shibuya-ku / 81 (0)3 3466 0497

Images courtesy of Node Uehara

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