Japan's Uniqlo Eyes Asia with New Tokyo Megastore

Japan's cheap chic clothing chain Uniqlo opened the doors to its new 12-floor Tokyo megastore on Friday, making a splash in the upmarket Ginza area as part of a drive across Asia.

"Opening a flagship store here is the first step to expand the business from here to the whole of Asia," Uniqlo chief executive Tadashi Yanai said ahead of the opening on the district's glitzy "Chuo Dori" high street.

"Ginza is the best location in Japan, and more so it is the best place in Asia," he said. "This is Japan's largest gateway to the global market."

Uniqlo's parent company Fast Retailing, which began in 1949 as a small clothing shop for men in western Yamaguchi prefecture under Yanai's father, has grown into one of Japan's most successful corporations.

After opening megastores in several major world cities, including New York, London and Paris, Uniqlo has shifted its focus to rapidly growing Asia, operating in Shanghai, Taipei and Seoul.

"We want to expand our stores to all the main cities in Asia," said Yanai, who is looking at 100 new outlets across the continent in the year to August 2012.

"Unfortunately, Japan is in a state of deadlock due to the ageing population, the low birth rate and politics being in deadlock," Yanai said. "But when I look at Japan as a part of Asia, a member of the world, I feel excited about the gigantic potential."

For the Ginza flagship store -- the firm's biggest in the world -- it has hired sales staff who can assist customers in five foreign languages: English, Chinese, Korean, French and Spanish.

Ginza has for years been the centre of upmarket fashion in Japan, host to the likes of Louis Vuitton and Hermes, with price tags -- and rental fees -- to match.

But global fast-fashion and casual retailers -- H&M, Zara, Forever 21 and Gap -- have appeared on Chuo Dori in recent years.

Government records show land in the area sold just over a year ago for 20 million yen ($234,000) per square metre (11 square feet).

It was not known how much Uniqlo was paying for its 5,000 square metres of retail space, but the building dwarfs that of Zara, which sits opposite.

However, it is significantly smaller than the 36,000 square metres occupied by Mitsukoshi department store, the grand old dame of Ginza.

Yanai said the new megastore is expected to post 10 billion yen ($119 million) in revenues after a year.

More than 300 shoppers queued up ahead of the official opening as they looked to be the first to set foot inside the shop -- Uniqlo's largest store in the world.

"I wanted to see the store," said Yuki Kurihara, 26.

"For a long time Ginza had the image of being a place for sophisticated grown-ups, and I hardly came here to shop," Kurihara said. "But that image is changing. Ginza is becoming more approachable."


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