Azabudai Hills is Japan’s New Tallest Building. What’s Inside?

Azabudai Hills is Japan’s New Tallest Building. What’s Inside?

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Azabudai Hills Mori JP Tower hovers above a Tokyo skyline at dusk, with lights twinkling. Nearby is Tokyo Tower.
The major Azabudai Hills development, home to Japan's new tallest building, opened late last year. What's it like - and what does it mean for Tokyo?

A new building towers above the Tokyo skyline. At 325.2 m (1,067 ft) high, the Azabudai Hills Mori JP Tower is Japan’s new tallest building. Eclipsing the former record holder, Osaka’s Abeno Harukas, by 25 meters, the Mori JP Tower is itself locally eclipsed in terms of human-engineered height only by Tokyo Skytree – the third tallest structure in the world.

Opened on November 24th, 2023, the building is part of the Azabudai Hills complex, which spans multiple buildings in Tokyo’s central Minato Ward. A mixed-use site for public, business, and private use, the complex is one of many developed by the Mori Building Company that has slowly reshaped the urban Tokyo landscape over the past decades. The various Azabudai buildings are located in the Toranomon business district, covering an area of approximately 63,900 m2 and occupying land only a ten-minute walk from the iconic Tokyo Tower.

With mid-to-high-end shopping, dining options, cultural facilities, and floor upon floor of residential and business space, Azabudai Hills presents a somewhat appealing facade to the average Tokyoite. So, what can you do at Azabudai Hills – and what does it signal for Tokyo’s ever-changing urban landscape?

Azabudai Hills Garden Plaza
The undulating “hills” of the Garden Plaza meshing into exclusive, high-end shopping. Photograph by author.

The Urban Village

The Azabudai Hills complex is the work of multiple architectural firms, most notably Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, the firm of Argentinian-American César Pelli – the designer of Malaysia’s iconic Petronas Towers. His firm describes the project as “a massive urban regeneration project aimed at revitalizing a large area of central Tokyo.” The development has also often been touted as a “Modern Urban Village.” Pelli Architects explains this as “a unique neighborhood that will combine the sophistication of a megalopolis with the intimacy of a small village in the heart of Tokyo.” [1]

In practice, for most visitors, this means a large mall directly connected to the Tokyo subway system. Nonetheless, the use of pleasant green spaces, including greenery on the uniquely undulating surface of the Garden Plaza section of the complex, helps to make Azabudai a little more bucolic than the average Tokyo megastructure.

These manmade hills, like pockmarked giant beehives from an alien planet, are Azabudai Hill’s most interesting addition to the Tokyo cityscape. They have an appealing look to them, adding something new that sets the area apart. Comparatively, the towering JP Tower and two massive residence towers are more nondescript. They match the other giant Mori projects of Toranomon and Roppongi Hills, making the new building somewhat hard to distinguish in the skyline – despite its height.

Azabudai Hills Garden Plaza
Part of the Garden Plaza structure, featuring high-end shopping. Photograph by author.

Azabudai Hills: The Newest Offerings

As a mixed-use complex, Azabudai Hills presents an intriguing combination of spaces for the public with spaces that are decidedly not. Far away from view are spacious penthouses and corporate meeting rooms. As a visitor to the “urban village,” however, there are some things worth checking out.

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Both Kamiyachō and Roppongi-itchōme stations offer direct access to the Azabudai Hills complex. Exits from these stations lead directly into the complex’s underground areas. From Kamiyachō, you enter an atrium with L’Abeillem a craft honey shop, and Criollo, offering macarons and other confections.

The basement-located Azabudai Hills Market offers mid-range grocery shopping, with adjacent omakase sushi, meat purveyors, and even a make-your-own dashi soup stock store. One floor up is quality liquor and tea purveyors.

Azabudai Hills Market escalator
Taking the escalator to the Azabudai Hills Market grocery space. Photograph by author.

The Village Green

Outside, between the soaring Mori JP Tower and the plaza space, is the Central Green. This is a pleasant enough park space, designed by Heatherwick Studio, with public seating. The park features “Miss Forest of Tokyo” a statue resembling a snow-covered pine tree atop a cherubic face. The work of well-known artist Nara Yoshitomo, the statue is already one of Azabudai Hills’ more recognizable features. The Central Green makes for a nice meeting spot, and is the closest the complex comes to embodying its idea of being an “urban village.”

"Miss Forest of Tokyo" by Nara Yoshitomo. Azabudai Hills
“Miss Forest of Tokyo” by Nara Yoshitomo. Photograph by author.

The complex is also home to some interesting cultural facilities. There’s a free manga gallery, with rotating exhibits. It hosts a paid modern art museum, too. For most overseas visitors, the object of greatest interest will be teamLab’s rehoused immersive gallery space, teamLab Borderless. Formerly located on the manmade island of Odaiba, its new home in Azabudai Hills will make for easy access for tourists looking to experience vivid colorscapes and selfie ops presented as only teamLab can.

TeamLab Borderless in Azabudai Hills
The entrance to TeamLab Borderless. Photograph by author.

A Uneasy Balance

An interesting feeling can take hold as you wander through the Azabudai Hills complex. The space may have been designed as an “urban village,” but like some real villages, there are priviged spaces that would prefer you didn’t enter. There’s a bit of disconnect between the public green, highly popular teamLabs, and high-end brand shops with doormen standing guard to dissuade window shopping by those not about to drop half a month’s salary on a bag.

Actual villages in modern Japan are filled with akiya, vacant buildings that can sell for a song. Suumo.jp lists penthouses in Azabudai Hills Residence A as starting at about ¥1,320,000 ($8,361) per month. That price is perhaps what you’d expect for incredible views and 103.81m2 floor space in central Tokyo. Still, it’s not quite “village” pricing.

The complex also features five-star accommodations at Janu Tokyo, a hotel located in Residence A. The hotel is luxurious, with a wellness center and a pool (a rare sight in Japanese hotels). The smaller rooms start at around $850 per night.

Tokyo is a global city and a major economic hub; there’s a reason to have high-end, exclusive shopping, lodging, and housing. It’s an appeal that draws in an economic class the city certainly means to woo. This also isn’t anything new for Tokyo, where window shopping for luxurious nonessentials in 1920s Ginza spawned its own word: Ginbura (銀ブラ).

But the complex’s attempt to serve as a space for both the general public and something more exclusive may spur on a little cognitive dissonance.

Mori JP Tower
The Mori JP Tower hovers over a Dior branch store. Beyond the first seven floors or so, the JP Tower mostly consists of exclusive apartments. Photograph by author.

For the Average Visitor, a Waste of Height

Perhaps the greatest disappointment relates to Azabudai Hill’s claim to fame: the great height of its Mori JP Tower. While the building does offer an accessible sky lounge, it now does so only for those using the dedicated cafe or restaurant. (The area was free to access upon opening, but closed to the non-paying public in April.) The few elevators that go beyond the 4th floor are tucked away, without clear signage to them. You have to seek them out, and then commit to purchases at one of the other establishments on its 33rd or 34th floor.

In other words, the viewing area is only about half the way up the 64-floor structure. The view offered is also only partial. You buy your coffee, head down to an atrium, and find you only have access to the southeast quadrant. This does offer a great, closeup view of Tokyo Tower, assuredly fantastic when night falls. Beyond, you can see the Rainbow Bridge as it winds its way to Odaiba. Sadly, your coffee only grants you access to this one-directional view, with the rest hidden away.

Tokyo Tower from the Mori JP Tower in Azabudai Hills
Tokyo Tower, as seen from the Mori JP Tower in Azabudai Hills. Photograph by author.

So, for the average Tokyoite, what’s the point in having this be the tallest building in Japan? The viewing floor on the older Roppongi Hills tower is much higher. Unless you’re in an Azabudai Hills penthouse on a higher level, the true view from Japan’s only supertall skyscraper is off-limits. Compare this to Abeno Harukas, until recently Japan’s tallest. (Also designed by César Pelli & Associates). Its observation deck, “Harukas 300,” is appropriately located at a dizzying height on floors 58-60. This access allows the height of the building to have some meaning to the residents of Osaka. So, if you’re in Tokyo, skip the coffee at Mori JP Tower and head instead to SkyTree. The views up there are incredible, truly demonstrating the vastness of Tokyo’s urban sprawl. They’re also actually 360°.

Mori JP Tower 34th Floor
The corner of the Mori JP Tower 34th floor purchasing a coffee gives you access to. Photograph by author.

The Mori-fication of Tokyo

Some question the value of these Tokyo mega-projects, which often feel quite un-Tokyo. The city is defined, in part, by the permeability of its buildings. Stairways to second-floor shops are accessible directly from the street; elevators on street level allow visitors to go directly to whatever their destination is on Tokyo’s iconic multi-floor zakyo buildings, like those that adorn Yasukuni Avenue in Shinjuku.

The Mori projects present a very different physical presence for Tokyo. They occupy vast spaces, enclosing multiple entities within ubiquitous, air-conditioned walkways. They wall off their worlds of shopping and business in a way that’s very familiar to most international cities.

Mori’s slew of major projects for Tokyo began with the now well-known Roppongi Hills, opened in 2003. The gigantic mixed-use facilities therein included a movie theater, art gallery, shops, and restaurants – sound familiar? The creation of Roppongi Hills went a long way in altering the perception of Roppongi; the area previously had a reputation as somewhat dingy, somewhat dodgy. It was “…a nightlight district
with numerous discotheques and bars, a place where foreigners mingled with rich young internationally minded Japanese.” It was also known for the frequency of the scams wrought upon barhopping tourists. Mori themselves sponsored the installment of boxes for the disposal of “indecent fliers” during the pre-construction Roppongi cleanup period. [2]

So, the highly manicured Roppongi Hills helped shift this perception. Toranomon, comparatively, hasn’t had a reputation for much beyond business. There’s no reputation to be saved by enclosing winding streets inside of shopping atriums. Instead, the creation of Azabudai Hills perhaps just furthers Tokyo’s internationalized, “global city” financial hub cred.

Gazenbotani, the former neighborhood displaced by the creation of Azabudai Hills
Gazenbotani, the former neighborhood displaced by the creation of Azabudai Hills. It was a valley resulting from Tokyo’s undulated topography, and home to a high concentration of homes and local shops. Gazenbotani ceased to exist from 2019. Photo by 高橋秀人, CC 表示-継承 3.0.

Where to Now?

To learn more about what Mori’s projects mean for Tokyo, we spoke with Joe McReynolds, a rising voice in commentary on Tokyo urbanity. McReynolds is the co-author of the excellent Emergent Tokyo.

“Mori’s claim with Roppongi Hills was that Mori was offering something new to the global business elite to lure talent to Tokyo, in a way that would ultimately benefit the city as a whole; but even if that were true, even if Tokyo lured some C-suite executives to Roppongi Hills who wouldn’t have come otherwise, why should we believe that’s had some significant economic impact? And if it did have an impact, why would we need the umpteenth Hills project on top of that? There’s a Reaganesque fantasy narrative of trickle-down economics here to mask the simple reality of a luxury development for the rich replacing what was once a more economically diverse area.”

Azabudai Hills fits this image for the Mori buildings quite readily. McReynolds continued, expressing his views regarding the internationalized placelessness these types of projects can foster.

“Mori’s vision is to build luxury developments for Tokyo that would fit perfectly nicely in Dubai or London, because they have no real local context to them. Azabudai Hills is in Tokyo, but it’s not really of Tokyo in any meaningful way. The silver lining: since Mori mega-developments are clustered in Minato Ward and are constructed at a snail’s pace, I don’t think they’ll displace the city I love any time soon. The rich will have their blandly sleek boxes in the sky, and the rest of us will have Tokyo.”

What to read next

Sources

[1] Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. (August 28, 2019). Toranomon-Azabudai District Category 1 Urban Redevelopment Project. Architectmagazine.com.

[2] Hein, Carola. (2013). “Roppongi Crossing: the Demise of a Tokyo Nightclub District and the Reshaping of a Global City. Roman Cybriwsky (Book review).” Urban Geography 34.5. 732-734.

麻布台ヒルズシティガイド 新しい学校のリーダーズと新しい東京!Brutus Casa. N. 290, June Issue 2024.

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Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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