With the iconic shopping complex’s rebirth in 2020, how will it capture Shibuya?
Even during construction, the updated PARCO had already been attracting guests, with the 63-meter long wall surrounding the site decorated with massive artwork from the legendary manga AKIRA. The long-awaited opening featured the first official Nintendo TOKYO location, along with countless fashion retailers and restaurants.
After nearly three years and three months of rebuilding, Shibuya PARCO opened on November 22, 2019 and has been bringing current pop culture trends to locals and foreign visitors alike.
We sat down to chat with the Managing Executive Officer of PARCO CO., LTD, Takashi Sensui. He’s the man responsible for the entire operation of Shibuya PARCO which brings a uniquely ‘Tokyo-centric’ experience for guests visiting this pop-culture landmark. Enjoy our exclusive interview!
OTAQUEST: Shibuya PARCO closed in 2016 for a complete rehaul, after being a beacon for youth culture in Tokyo since 1973. What was the main concept you had in mind when creating the new Shibuya PARCO?
Takashi Sensui: To start, we really studied up on exactly what Shibuya PARCO was like back in 1973.
OTAQUEST: So you started back at step one？
Takashi Sensui: That’s right. After all, we weren’t creating something out of nothing–we were designing an updated Shibuya PARCO. Without understanding the old Shibuya PARCO, we thought it would be impossible to make a new one. So, we actually started by interviewing a bunch of celebrities. We met with a ton of people, and from them, we learned what was Shibuya PARCO like.
OTAQUEST: Did any of those answers leave a lasting impression on you?
Takashi Sensui: Osamu Shigematsu, the Chairman of the clothing brand United Arrows, said ‘PARCO just shone brighter than the rest.’ And that phrase stuck with me. Anyway, I met with so many people–a ton of whom I’d never get a chance to meet in any other circumstance–and I asked them about old impressions and feelings about the classic Shibuya PARCO.
OTAQUEST: You started by interviewing celebrities? That’s something you don’t hear often!
Takashi Sensui: I guess you’re right. Usually, we would start with more traditional marketing (laughs) but to be honest, we thought the best way to understand the old PARCO would be by hearing these honest opinions. We talked to people who had been in Shibuya since the original PARCO opened, all the way up to people who are new to the area. And there was another reason–back when we closed Shibuya PARCO in 2016, it was amazing how many celebrities reached out to us. We even held an assembly regarding the direction PARCO would go in. We asked them the question—“What should the new Shibuya PARCO be like?” Starting with interviews seemed like the best way to find the answer to that question.
OTAQUEST: So, what did you find out initially?
Takashi Sensui: One thing we found out was that, Shibuya PARCO was originally intended to be a commercial space inside the Seibu Theater.
OTAQUEST: You’re saying the idea was to have a commercial space inside a theater, not a theater inside of a commercial space like it turned out.
Takashi Sensui: Right. It all began as a way to try to fuse art and culture with commerce. And the other thing we found out was what makes Shibuya really unique is the amount of street-level shopping. You hear Shibuya being compared to Ikebukuro a lot, but Ikebukuro is basically all train-station shops. If you think about it: Seibu, Tobu, Ikebukuro PARCO, Lumine, all the big shops over there are in the train station. It’s the total opposite of Shibuya. Here, it feels more personal–a huge percentage of retail sales in Shibuya come from small specialty shops that face the street. I really think that’s something that makes Shibuya special.
OTAQUEST: Actually, Shibuya PARCO was also responsible for renaming a number of those streets too. ‘Ward Office Street’ became ‘Park Street’ (PARCO means ‘park’ in Italian), and PARCO named nearby streets ‘Spanish Hill’ and ‘Organ Hill’ too. They were obviously very conscious of how important those streets were to the area.
Takashi Sensui: Shibuya culture is really born on the streets. Street-level-shopping is the symbol of Shibuya, and the old Shibuya PARCO valued the connection to streets, even more connected strongly to streets. We thought the old Shibuya PARCO once used to be a shopping center symbolize street culture. Next thing we did was to “meet people, see things and experience.” We visited and checked a lot of shopping centers, but to be honest, I felt like those shopping centers were created using standard marketing and they were all the same, like Kintaro candy and dull. But there were some interesting shopping centers, and if it comes to restaurants, Golden Gai in Shinjuku and the New Shimbashi building, they are interesting.
OTAQUEST: Those places are where you can find that mix of well-known restaurants and cheap street-food, yeah.
Takashi Sensui: Then you have those unique thrift shops on Nakano Broadway and in Koenji. The reason why they’re so interesting is because they are completely spontaneous. What they sell isn’t carefully planned or marketed. On Nakano Broadway, there’s a figure shop right next to a dry cleaner! And this kind of disorder is occurring because it’s shopping arcade. This all goes back to what I said earlier: Shibuya is the symbolic town for ‘street-level shopping.’ So when we consider what kind of shopping center the new Shibuya PARCO should be, we ended up with the idea that we wanted to create in the new Shibuya PARCO a shopping arcade that felt totally spontaneous and unexpected.
When thinking of how the new Shibuya PARCO should be, we thought we should bring what we found the most compelling by actually ‘seeing people and things and by experiencing.’ I walked in circles all over Tokyo, trying to pinpoint what I personally found the most compelling, rather than what I thought would sell well or who I could target. At the end of the day, Shibuya PARCO was created to resemble a spontaneous shopping district, rather than having categorized zones.
OTAQUEST: Your concept was to create a place that everyone could enjoy, regardless of gender, age or nationality.
Takashi Sensui: Exactly. We’ve been calling Shibuya PARCO “the only and one next-generation commercial building which send messages to the world.” Back when Shibuya PARCO opened in 1973, people had never seen anything like it. It was a next-generation shopping center. Now, 50 years later, we were trying to make a next-generation shopping center again. The big thing that’s changed compared to 50 years ago is the target market. Of course, Shibuya PARCO used to target the domestic market, but now we’re in a more global age. Our new theme is ‘international communication.’ Our new market is ageless, genderless and cosmopolitan. Shibuya isn’t just the trendiest market in Tokyo–it’s the trendiest market in all of Japan, so we’ve created the building in which floors and sections are categorized with feelings that completely transcend the concept of age. Also, while most department stores have separate floors for men and women’s fashion, Shibuya PARCO caters to couples’ fashion. On the basement level, there’s a mixed, or ‘gender-free’, bar. That really sums up the concept for the building as a whole. In the end, we came up with five elements to focus on.
OTAQUEST: Shibuya PARCO is made up of five elements: ‘‘Fashion,’ ‘Art & Culture,’ ‘Entertainment,’ ‘Food,’ and ‘Technology.’
Takashi Sensui: The goal for the Shibuya PARCO building was to combine entertainment, art, culture and shopping. Our business includes not only the operation of a shopping center but also the entertainment business. Along with the PARCO theater, we also manage CLUB QUATTRO (a live music club) and CINE QUINTO (a movie theater.) (*CLUB QUATTRO and CINE QUINTO are located separately in Shibuya.) In terms of art, there are currently 9 galleries total.
OTAQUEST: You’ve got theaters for entertainment, a movie theater and record shop for art and culture, and a base for bringing Japanese anime and gaming culture to the masses as well. Plus, plenty of fashion.
Takashi Sensui: From a global perspective, there’s something really interesting about Japanese fashion. Unique brands continue to sell incredibly well. Shibuya PARCO combines Japanese mode/street fashion brands with luxury brands, like Gucci and Loewe. On the fourth floor, you’ll find everyday office wear for white-collar workers in Shinjuku, and on the fifth floor you’ll find Lolita styles straight out of Harajuku. Basically, we condensed all of Tokyo fashion into one building.
OTAQUEST: And what was your concept for the ‘food’ portion of the plan?
Takashi Sensui: Honestly, there is a massive food-boom going on right now. If we messed up the food at Shibuya PARCO, there’s a real chance that the entire thing would fail. Because of this, we put a ton of effort to make the Chaos Kitchen on the basement level, mixed food and retail on the first floor and an entire restaurant zone on the seventh floor. We created the restaurant floor called ’Chaos Kitchen’ with the idea that even the restaurant zone includes new culture. In most of other shopping centers, a restaurant floor or a restaurant zone is just like a food court, but —we had a concept of creating something new and what comes next. The entire menu is pure chaos, too, and you can experience a crossdressing bar in Shinjuku 2-chome (Tokyo’s hub for gay culture), or an inexpensive award-winning fine dining establishment like you can find in Daikanyama. Guests can enjoy this huge variety of food, alongside record stores and art galleries. Chaos Kitchen aims to create new meals which blend current popular culture and commerce with popular food trends as well. That’s our concept.
OTAQUEST: The selection of restaurants at Shibuya PARCO is incredibly unique. You’ve got traditional cafes, a restaurant famous for its insect menu, a Japanese dishes bar by a sushi master and a famous Sanuki udon restaurant, all under one roof!
Kome to circus
Takashi Sensui: Our staff put their heart and soul into creating this place. Especially ‘Oniyanma’, the younger employees loved udon and were so passionate about getting it open. Of course, we had restaurant leasing pros on our team, but the entire staff gave their input on the food we offer, even the fashion team! If we only listened to people in the restaurant industry, we’d only be catering to one type of restaurant, right? So we asked the fashion workers what kind of stores they frequent too, and so on while we were trying to get fashion brands. When we started bringing in restaurants that are usually frequented by those who appreciate fashion, we asked the incredibly respected Japanese architect Sousuke Fujimoto to design the common dining space. He kept the old ‘C’ logo from the original Shibuya Parco’s neon sign by Mr. Igarashi too. The entire area is filled with mirrors, and, I think the guests will really appreciate and focus on the materials that were used rather than design.
Udon golden-ringed dragonfly
OTAQUEST: There are a ton of restaurants that foreign tourists will absolutely love.
Takashi Sensui: Absolutely. We’ve got a ramen shop that did an event at Twitter’s company cafeteria. On the seventh floor, you can get kaiten-zushi, yakiniku, tempura, ramen, even Genghis Khan (a Japanese mutton and vegetable dish). We put an incredible amount of effort and thought into the food we offer, and I think people visiting from overseas will have an absolute blast.
Translated by Carley Garcia