Aeon Makuhari the leisure centre

Jan 15

Aeon heralds each of its new large malls as a new era of mould-breaking shopping, but often reveals something more prosaic. Makuhari Shintoshin may be the exception. While there is nothing startlingly original in the individual components, overall it is one of the more forward thinking SCs of recent years, offering a level of entertainment and services that could ensure a consistent level of footfall well beyond people simply coming to shop.

Aeon opened its flagship 192,000 sqm Makuhari Shintoshin SC last month. It has certainly been an immediate hit with nearly 600,000 visitors in the first four days alone. Once again Aeon claims groundbreaking new features, and while these may or may not keep people returning, the mall is certainly big.

In total 360 stores are housed across four separate buildings: Grand Mall (the largest), Active Mall, Family Mall and Pet Zone. 92 stores are new to Tokyo and another 92 new to Chiba. As well as interesting tenants, the mall is replete with entertainment options ranging from parks, walks, cinemas, children’s amusement parks and sports experience centres. While Aeon often claims each major new mall will mark a new generation of SCs, in Aeon Makuhari Shintoshin’s case this may actually be true. Many of the services have been seen before, but what is different is the variety, quantity and scale, marrying elements of amusement parks, children’s play centres, sports clubs, town halls, clinics, high streets and parks in one place. The aim is to sell lots of stuff but also lots of entertainment too, all the while trying to ensure maximum footfall with free add on services – and, having learned a hard lesson from Aeon Laketown in Saitama, maintaining this footfall outside of just peak times.

The Family Mall is a good example of this, including a host of entertainment spaces alongside retail stores. Most prominent is Kandu, the job experience theme park opening in Japan for the first time with 35 different job themes, including sponsored areas like Onward’s Fashion Square to try out modelling, JAL’s flight simulator, and Knorr’s soup shop, and a 530 seat restaurant. In addition there is Miraiya no Mori from book chain Miraiya, which has four different houses with themes like Kids Science, Kids Kitchen and so on, Toei Hero World, and Molly fantasy, an amusement park. Tenants include Hysteric Mini, Barbie Jill Stuart and Daiso’s new variety store Papipupe Pokke. Some tenants mix in entertainment too, such as Bakauke Circus where children can learn to make rice crackers. There is also a 600 seat food court and a rooftop fountain and water play area.

The Pet Mall emphasises services more than entertainment, including a 24 hour veterinary clinic as well as a 2,000 sqm Pecos pet shop with services such as animal training and hair trimming. There is even an animal hotel with 100 rooms, and while services for older humans remain sparse, there is a new centre for senior animals offering walks and therapies. Animal birthdays can also be celebrated at a special food court that admits both animals and owners, complete with birthday cake (a snip at ¥2,000 for something the size of a doughnut).

Grand Mall is an adult hobby and fashion zone and includes tenants like Bose, Tsutaya Books, and Shimamura Music alongside fashion and cosmetics tenants like TopShop, Kiehls, Cosmeme, H&M, Monki, Danish variety store SφSTRENE GRENE, Honolulu Cafe and Laulea. As part of the emphasis on entertainment, there are also 14 restaurants in the ground floor as well as 18 more in a space called Live Kitchen, an open food court with 1,300 seats, and a space called Cool Japan with shops such as Cospa Ajia. A space dubbed next-generation Entertainment Zone offers theatre, dance and comedy shows alongside a cinema with moving seats. There are also numerous outdoor spaces and even two prayer rooms.

The Active Mall focuses on sports but again tries to meld merchandise sales with fun and a bit of exercise. Many shops include areas where merchandise can be tried out but there are also large sports areas including a vast climbing wall. The anchor tenant is Aeon’s Sports Authority franchise with a 1,500 sqm store, housing the climbing wall, as well as testing areas for baseball bats and footballs, footlab to test shoes, and a golf simulator studio. An event space is included with a wall of 60 inch screens. The rooftop includes three indoor tennis courts and two five-a-side soccer courts. Murasaki Sports has a new store called Boarders Fact which includes a skateboard ramp and skate themed cafe.

There’s every reason to suggest that Makuhari Shintoshin could be Aeon’s first really big success, despite a long history of SC development. It’s bigger, has more variety, and is better designed than Aeon Laketown – an SC that became the size it is only because Aeon wanted to stop rivals buying into the same location. Makuhari has none of the experimental feel of previous Aeon malls, and, vitally, it has much better transport links to and from Tokyo, with even reasonable travel times from as far as Yokohama – just a little more than an hour by train and less by car. It is also in easy striking distance of Narita for the growing tourist trade. As for Japan’s department stores, with Aeon’s new SC properties there is always the fear of more of the same, with the consequent longevity problems that generates. In Makuhari Shintoshin, Aeon looks to have come up with something different.