With the opening of Tokyo Sky Tree on May 22nd, a new major shopping mall in Tokyo also opened up. At the base of Tokyo Sky Tree is the new Solamachi shopping mall. It is one of the largest shopping malls in central Tokyo and a great example of a Japanese take on an American shopping mall. The complex itself is huge and can take up to a full day to explore every corner of the mall. It is not the best designed mall in the world, nor is it the most beautiful or elegant. It is very functional with a lot of open space around the complex to highlight what people want to see, Tokyo Sky Tree. Tokyo Sky Tree was designed with the intention to revitalize the neighbourhood and improve the exposure of the surrounding areas. Time will tell whether this will or will no work.
Solamachi is a combination of two Japanese words, “sola” or “sora” and “machi”. “Sola” is translated into “sky” and “machi” is translated into “town”. “Skytown” is a very simple and obvious choice for a shopping complex located at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree. Solamachi itself can be split into three parts. The first would be the western side of Tokyo Sky Tree. This section is simply a food and restaurant section. There are a few shops in and around this area but it is predominantly occupied by a major food service area on the second floor and a few cafes and bistros above that. The major draw for this area is on the 5th floor which has the Sumida Aquarium. The Sumida Aquarium is a brand new aquarium that may not be the largest in Tokyo but it will prove popular with the locals. The central area of Solamachi is mainly a connecting area between the east and west sides with just a few shops to bridge the gap. Most of the services in the centre are related to Tokyo Sky Tree itself due to the fact that it takes up so much space. The east side is where most people will spend their time. It is where most of the fashion shops are as well as the restaurants and an “experience” zone. Dominated by Sky Tree East Tower, this side of the shopping complex has more to offer for shoppers and visitors alike.
One of the more important areas in the East Tower is the Japan Experience floor. The Japan Experience floor features more interactive shops than the other floors of the EastTower. There is the J:COM Wonder Studio that showcases new television technology while promoting their cable television broadcasts. J:COM is a cable provider that brings various cable channels to customers. Then there is the Sumidamachi shop. It is a large area that showcases the various talents of the Sumida and Shitamachi area. They focus more on the local craftsmen as well as providing local information about the Sumida area. You can easily get information on upcoming festivals as well as sample walking tours of each area in Sumida-ku. The Sumidamachi shop is a great way to see the old traditional side of Japan while still being in the modern areas. It is very Japanese in how they mix both old and new together. The other areas of the east side include several restaurant floors and many of them have good views of Tokyo Sky Tree. Some of the shops will be a bit expensive but that is to be expected of restaurants in a brand new tourist trap.
All of the shops in Solamachi had Tokyo Sky Tree related items during the opening week of the mall. You could find a plethora of Sky Tree related items as everyone is trying to cash in on Tokyo Sky Tree. Even Starbucks got into the act by selling oversized coffee mugs and travel mugs with Tokyo Sky Tree on them. While not every shop had Tokyo Sky Tree related items, it would be hard pressed not to notice the huge variety of Sky Tree goods and themes at each shop. Many shops, especial the food shops, have “tall” items. They either use long packages with Tokyo Sky Tree on the outside, or they just create a long cookie. All of this is modeled after Tokyo Sky Tree itself. One cheesecake shop had the Tokyo Sky Tree cheesecake. The name may be a little obvious but it was just a regular cheesecake with white frosting. The frosting had a slight blue tint to reflect “Skytree White”, the official name of the paint used on Tokyo Sky Tree. The paint on Tokyo Sky Tree is predominantly white with a tint of blue. Other shops just sell things at 634 yen, or a derivative of that. One restaurant was selling a large pint of beer for 634 Yen. Of course, you can find the typical souvenirs around Solamachi from cookies with Tokyo Sky Tree printed on it to wine bottles in the shape of Tokyo Sky Tree itself, complete with a plastic antenna to go on top! This is not to say that the surrounding area isn’t getting in on the act either.
While Solamachi is the main place to be around Tokyo Sky Tree, the surrounding areas are also trying to get into the act. Walking around the neighbourhoods of Tokyo Sky Tree, you will be able to see various parabolic mirrors. These are used so that you can take a picture of yourself along with Tokyo Sky Tree. Then there are the displays of Tokyo Sky Tree itself. Most people have purchased plastic models of Tokyo Sky Tree that light up and some people just put pictures of Tokyo Sky Tree in the windows. I have seen metal sculptures of Tokyo Sky Tree, cardboard renditions, and even a bamboo version that was made by a bamboo furniture maker. You just can’t escape Tokyo Sky Tree when walking around in Narihirabashi. Some of the local shops have, for a while, been selling Tokyo Sky Tree items. While Solamachi may be the main place to buy these items, I have heard of one shop that is selling a Sky Tree meal. They offer a few different varieties but they all focus on having three deep fried shrimp standing on end with an onion ring holding them together. It is a tall monstrosity that is sure to help aid in Japanese obesity. Of course it is all in good fun and I highly doubt most people would be purchasing these things just for themselves. Unfortunately, most of the people who visit Tokyo Sky Tree have been going to Solamachi only, and the local shops have only seen their sales stay stagnant. Thankfully, the total traffic to the local shops around Solamachi hasn’t decreased.
The area around Tokyo Sky Tree is now dominated by Solamachi. Solamachi threatens the local community by taking away a lot of business from the local retailers in the area. It also threatens the local dynamic of the area around Solamachi. A lot of the locals may frequent the local shops less now that Solamachi has opened up. It is a typical big box problem. In America, when Wallmart comes to town, it threatens the local shops as many people may choose to go to the big box shop rather than the local shops due to the ease of doing business as well as the cheaper prices due to economies of scale. Tokyo has so far resisted the big box retailers, aside from department stores. You can still find dozens, if not hundreds, of small restaurants all over, but the numbers of fashion retailers in these smaller areas are decreasing. It is getting harder and harder for the older style of shops to stay in business these days. In general, Tokyo Sky Tree is a benefit to the community, but whether everyone will like it or not in 10 years is anyone’s guess. Hopefully both the established local shops and the shops in Solamachi can co-exist and benefit everyone rather than Solamachi draining the life out of what is left of the local shops.
Tokyo Sky Tree – Solamachi is part of a series of posts about Tokyo Sky Tree. To read more, please head over to