Tokyo: The Retail Design Capital Flying Under the Radar

In the first of our series on retail design capitals, we highlight what makes Tokyo one of the world's leading retail design scenes.

Words by: Mike Tristram

Senior Strategist


In the world of retail design, cities like London, New York, Paris, and Beijing often steal the limelight. But if you're looking for a hidden gem that's a true epicenter of cutting-edge retail design, Tokyo is the place to be. With its unique blend of tradition and innovation, Tokyo has quietly emerged as one of the leading retail design capitals globally.

Here, we'll explore what sets Tokyo apart from the crowd and delve into the diverse subcultures and retail design scenes in key shopping districts like Harajuku, Omotesando, Shinjuku, Ginza, and Shibuya. Highlighting key store concepts that have made a significant impact on Tokyo's retail design landscape, and share our experience of working in this dynamic retail design metropolis.

Why Tokyo Stands Out:

Tokyo's retail design scene distinguishes itself in several ways, making it a unique destination for both brands, consumers and designers. Here are some key reasons why we believe Tokyo is a leading retail design capital:

Concept Stores as Market Testing Grounds:

Many global brands view Tokyo as a strategic entry point into the Asian market – due to it’s more Westernised outlook. To test the waters and connect with Tokyo's trendsetting consumers, international brands often open new and unique concept stores in the city. These localised concept stores serve as a playground for creativity and innovation, with retailers experimenting with new design aesthetics and brand experiences.

Fusion of Tradition and Innovation:

Tokyo seamlessly blends traditional Japanese culture with futuristic innovations, creating a shopping experience like no other. Whether it's a centuries-old temple surrounded by high-end boutiques in Omotesando or a sleek, tech-savvy store in bustling Shibuya; Tokyo manages to marry the old and the new in a way that's both visually striking and emotionally resonant. A technological leader that rivals silicon valley, yet cash payments and in-store purchases remain highly-prevalent. It blends past, present and future in a truly unique way.

A Global Exporter of Creativity and Culture

Tokyo is considered the birthplace of modern streetwear culture, with some of the most influential brands and designers heralding from the city. Not only that but modern food trends, gaming culture and technological innovations that are now taken for granted; all found their origins in the city. The city is known both as the vending machine capital of the world whilst also holding the most Michelin stars in the world. It’s streets are a unique melting pot of sub-cultures, that inspire people from all around the world and drives its contrasting retail design scenes.

The City’s Highly-Differentiated Retail Design Scenes

Whilst areas of Tokyo are comparable to New York and landmarks mirror those in Paris, it’s unique retail offer is not awash with retail roll-outs that monopolize each other. Brand’s store concepts are not the same here as they are in New York or London, or even the same as in other shopping districts. Instead each neighbourhood plays by its own rules, pushing brands to tailor their offer and brand experiences to suit. Brands that deeply understand each can thrive in this vibrant and varied metropolis. Here we’ll dive into the consumer subcultures and retail design concepts that set each neighbourhood apart.

Harajuku – The Streetwear OG:

Known for it’s under the radar brands and youthful energy, Harajuku is a hotbed of retail creativity. It’s streets continue to influence modern streetwear culture as we know it. Here, you'll find homegrown brands like of BAPE, Descente and Human Made alongside international brands like Stussy, DSQUARED2 and adidas Originals.

The adidas Originals Flagship we designed for Harajuku is a prime example of how brands tailor their offerings to local tastes. The localised store design reflects Harajuku's art community and prevalent street culture; presenting products like they’re in an art gallery. The space also brings in artists in residence and features a forward-thinking, gender-inclusive merchandising strategy.

Omotesando – For High Flyers:

Neighbouring Harajuku, is Omotesando Avenue. Often called Tokyo's Champs-Élysées due to its luxurious boutiques and high-end eateries. Here international high-fashion and distinguished heritage brands like Dior, Celine, Fendi, Hermes and Jil Sander present luxury store designs that are grand in scale, rich in texture and classic in style.

In this prestigious retail location, we worked with Nordic homeware brand Iittala on the customer experience strategy for their Kengo Kuma-designed Flagship. A store that’s part retail, part hospitality and event space – we devised how the space lives and breathes the brand’s Nordic lifestyle proposition, aligning it with the neighbourhood's slower pace of life.

Shinjuku – A Cosmopolitan Hub:

Shinjuku is one of Tokyo's busiest districts, housing a diverse range of retail spaces alongside energetic karaoke bars for locals. Fashion mega stores and global high street staples like Uniqlo, H&M, Apple and Disney can all be found here. As the commercial hub of the city, it’s a main staple of local life and famous for the neon lights of the Skyscraper District.

Ginza – Where East meets West:

Ginza is one of the oldest shopping districts in Tokyo. A premium shopping destination, it features avant-garde fashion brands like Dover Street Market, Issey Miyake, Gucci and Rimowa. Shiseido’s ‘temple to wellness’ can be found here as well as the fabled Itoya stationery shop and Ginza Six, the city’s most prestigious mall, with public art installations and the largest rooftop garden (arguably the inspiration behind China’s art malls).

Here we created highly-localised brand experiences for both Hunter and UGG. For both we carefully crafted their store concepts to match Ginza's prestigious reputation. UGG’s sensorial store design complements Ginza's upscale atmosphere, whilst Hunter’s dramatic, hyper-localised Flagship offers shoppers a totally unique brand experience.

Shibuya – The Trendsetter:

As one of Tokyo's most iconic neighbourhoods, Shibuya has a thriving retail design scene. Home to the most photographed tourist spots in the city, Shibuya Crossing, it’s bustling and dynamic shopping streets feature a host of sports, fashion and lifestyle brands. Brimming with new concepts like Jordan’s new 'World of Flight' Flagship, Diesel’s latest retail concept and influential stores like Ambush Workshop, Acne Studios 'Project Store' and the AR-rich Hipanda. Completing this cool, curated and casual shopping destination is The Monocle Shop and Lighthouse Records.

Amidst this you'll discover our Flagship store design for Oakley. A digitally amplified ‘store of the future’ that epitomizes Tokyo's unique blend of tradition and innovation. Presenting Oakley's cutting-edge technology in a showroom-esque brand space inspired by it’s iconic testing facility in California, we created an unforgettable shopping experience exclusive to Shibuya.

Tokyo Retail Concepts – Past and Present

Tokyo’s retail design scene is so rich and vibrant that even in the outskirts, you will find some the most inspiring concept stores in the world. Take for example New Balance’s recent T-House concept, an unbranded and hyper-localised store located in a 122-year-old tea storehouse - it’s unlike any other in their retail portfolio. Equally The Conran Shop in Daikanyama features an art gallery and tea bar, while the whole space itself has a residential atmosphere. Daikanyama is also home to Timberland’s new, world-first concept store for its Japan-limited premium label, Timberland +813. You can even find the world’s largest Starbucks Reserve Roastery out in Meguro, featuring the brands first cocktail bar.

Tokyo’s illustrious history of game-changing concept stores isn’t a new trend. Previous retail concepts like The POOL Aoyama, a concept store by Hiroshi Fujiwara, had a truly unique spatial design but it was also one of the first stores to use retail activations in the way that we have all come to love and expect. Sony Park in Ginza was also a pioneering initiative, way ahead of its time. This branded public space was used to promote the brand, offering people interactive experiences and experimental activities. And let’s not forget that Tokyo was where Lexus first debuted it's now infamous, luxury lifestyle brand space; Intersect.

Looking to take the Tokyo retail market by storm?

In the ever-evolving world of retail, Tokyo is quietly asserting itself as a leading retail design capital, offering a unique blend of tradition, innovation, and trendsetting experimentation. From Harajuku's youthful energy to Omotesando's luxury boutiques and dynamic shopping streets of Shibuya; Tokyo's retail landscape is a testament to its unique creative spirit. The projects highlighted, including Oakley’s ‘Store of the Future’ to Iittala’s slow living brand experience, reflect Tokyo's ability to inspire and shape global retail design trends.

As a leader in designing retail concepts for the Tokyo market, we are proud to be a part of this vibrant and dynamic retail ecosystem. Tokyo may be flying under the radar as a retail design capital, but it's undoubtedly one of the most exciting and innovative shopping destinations for brands, consumers and designers alike. Looking to add your name to the streets of this influential retail design city? Let’s Talk.