Thematic shopping experiences at Shibuya

Getting Tokyo in shape for the Olympics may have become less urgent with the delay to 2021, but Shibuya will continue to rejuvenate at breakneck speed. A flurry of recent developments is all part of the effort to safeguard its position as Japan’s top shopping destination for decades to come, including Shibuya Stream, Shibuya Scramble and the new PARCO department store.

Each of them is trying hard to differentiate themselves. PARCO is home to Japan’s first Nintendo store; and, in judging shopping by gender or formal vs informal obsolete, the store has also created a novel thematic shopping experience. Floors with conceptual names such as ‘Next Tokyo’ for tech and future-inspired fashion are in, while those with generic titles are out: a search for ‘Men’s Casual’ will be entirely in vain. In contrast, Shibuya Scramble has focused heavily on Japan’s foodies with its reinvention of the traditional department store food halls or depachika. New concepts abound, whether bento boxes from ekinaka or ‘inside train station’ stores, or Franco-Japanese fusions of baked goods, for instance ‘breadmakis’.

A pursuit of originality

Nevertheless, there are some unifying elements behind the stores’ efforts to innovate and stand out. They have transformed their predictable and routine displays into a presentational style that is heavily curated and deliberately unfamiliar. This pursuit of originality influences every detail of new sites and layouts, as well as the bets on unique but unknown upstart brands. PARCO’s ‘Corner of Tokyo Street’ showcases vintage fashion, and is all about reflecting local culture rather than global luxury and established names. Meanwhile, Scramble has integrated Japan’s largest Nakagawa Masaschichi store, a centuries-old select shop of Japanese crafts. (This venerable select store incidentally demonstrates our seasonal theme of nostalgia with its beautiful Japanese Traditional Arts and Crafts Limited Edition Monopoly sets.)

Underpinning all this is, of course, the need to challenge online retail. A real-world experience cannot be predicated on the belief that showcasing brand names will be enough to entice consumers off their sofas. To create a need to go out – to create a destination – only a new spin on shopping will do, transforming it into the joy of discovering the unexpected.