From Ghost Town to Weekend Pedestrian Heaven: How Maru Biru Helped Transform Tokyo’s Business District

The Yomiuri Shimbun, courtesy of Mitsubishi Estate Co.
Left: Marunouchi Naka-dori street today, which is now a pedestrian street at certain times of the day, in the Chiyoda district of Tokyo.
Marunouchi Naka-dori Street in 1967.

Sandwiched between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station, the Marunouchi business district has long been home to the headquarters of many large corporations, but until the 21st century the area was a weekend ghost town.

Today, the redevelopment of the entire district has transformed the area into a bustling weekend destination with brand name shops, acclaimed restaurants and cultural amenities.

What initiated the change was the opening on September 6, 2002 of the new Maru Biru, or Marunouchi building.

“The discussion started with whether Marunouchi would remain a place where people just work,” said Seijin Chino, general manager of Mitsubishi Estate Co., which is developing the neighborhood. “We struggled to find ways to encourage people to visit multiple places in the area.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Maru Biru in Chiyoda district, Tokyo

Maru Biru has thus become a symbol of the development and renewal of Marunouchi.

The lower floors of Maru Biru have been designed to retain the look of the old Marunouchi building which was built in 1923. More than a tenth of the total area of ​​the 37-story building is used as commercial areas for more of 100 stores and an event space in the ground floor atrium was also created. On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, several stores in Maru Biru will be replaced in stages until next spring.

Kiyomi Mikuni, the 68-year-old celebrity chef of French cuisine, opened a restaurant in the neighborhood shortly before the opening of Maru Biru.

“Before, on vacation, there was no one, not even a mouse,” Mikuni said. “I knew the area had potential, but I didn’t know how much it could change.”

In recent years, as Japan welcomed record numbers of foreign tourists, many people wishing to avoid the crowds of the nearby Ginza district flocked to Marunouchi Naka-dori Street. Pedestrianized in some sections at specific times of the day since 2015, the street runs along the Imperial Palace side of Maru Biru through the entire Marunouchi district. The street has recently exhibited contemporary art and attracts people to the seats set up in the street or the benches along it.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

During the 1990s, many buildings in the neighborhood housed bank branches on the ground floor. As banks close at 3 p.m., pedestrians passing after that time would only encounter shutter after shutter. Buildings in the neighborhood were also aging and some businesses were moving their headquarters out of the neighborhood.

After Maru Biru, Mitsubishi Estate turned its attention to developing the site of the former Japan National Railways headquarters at Marunouchi Oazo. Then next to Maru Biru, a similar skyscraper was built called Shin-Maru Biru, or the Shin-Marunouchi Building. Later, an art museum was built inside the new Mitsubishi Ichigokan building.

In the wider area directly north of Tokyo Station sits the next centerpiece of the capital’s skyline: the Torch Tower, due for completion in 2027 as the nation’s tallest skyscraper at around 390 meters. Events are planned in the square where the tower will rise to highlight the attractiveness of local regions.

About Walter J. Leslie

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