A discreet black sign, concrete floors, industrial-style ceilings, wooden shelves filled with design toys and gourmet treats. This may sound like the minimal interior of an urban lifestyle store in some hip corner of Tokyo, but the reality is more surprising. It is, in fact, a new branch of one of Japan’s most recognizable chains of convenience stores: FamilyMart (minus the neon lighting and the signature green sign).

The convenience store, complete with its design makeover, is one of 30-plus retail outlets that opened their doors Friday in the sleekly designed new development Shonan T-Site.

The complex is the second T-Site to be opened by Tsutaya, the country’s biggest music, book and video company, which first turned heads three years ago with the launch of the concept in Daikanyama.

The formula is as simple as it has been successful: T-Site is a carefully curated “third space,” complete with a concierge-led Tsutaya bookstore alongside a string of cafes and retail spaces, with the goal of creating an extension of the home or office. It is also a celebration of analogue over digital, as reflected in Magazine Street, a walkway of countless international magazines that cuts through the heart of both developments.

Although both T-Sites, run by Culture Convenience Club, share the same concept, the locations could not be more diverse. Surrounded by embassies, boutiques and leafy lanes, Daikanyama is the epitome of upmarket urban chic. Meanwhile, the new Shonan complex in Kanagawa Prefecture— a bus hop away from Tsujido Station, around 50 km west of the capital — is set within Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, a high-profile new community project created by Panasonic as a template for future urban living. More than 100 families have so far moved in since the first homes went on sale earlier this year, although the vast flat site is still very much a work in progress, with a target 1,000 households by the time of its completion in 2018.

Design, however, remains a common denominator for both sites. The Daikanyama space, created by Tokyo-based Klein Dytham architecture (KDa), has won a string of awards for its trio of white cubes, complete with the interlocking “T” motif on the façade.

Kenya Hara, the designer, is also behind T-Site’s monochrome signage, created in strong contrast to the blue and yellow signs that light up the fronts of thousands of conventional Tsutaya stores across the country.

KDa and Hara were similarly involved in the new Shonan T-Site, which is made up of three white neo-modernist pavilions, this time with facades scattered with minimal ivy leaves — a reference to the first kanji of Tsutaya meaning “ivy.”

In a nod to its location not far from laid-back surfing communities, there is also a focus on natural sunlight, light-coloured woodwork and modernist furnishings in varying shades of blue that bring to mind the sea.

The two-level Shonan buildings are spacious as well as light-filled (Magazine Street is 120 meters long — more than twice the length of the Daikanyama space), with book sections curated by a team of concierges.

In addition to the surprisingly stylish FamilyMart, boutiques include Claska Gallery & Shop “Do,” Gungendo and Globewalker plus a custom-designed T-Site Apple-authorized reseller space.

Among the numerous cafes is Starbucks, which in fresh contrast to its normally ubiquitous green is filled with Scholten & Baijing’s geometric tables alongside blue fabric and wood chairs by Danish designers Hay. There is also a second floor Shonan Lounge, which, similarly to Daikanyama’s Anjin Lounge, takes print as a starting point in terms of the design, with shelves of vintage magazines and rare design tomes.

Tapping into the trend for “creating,” there are rows of 3-D printers and laser cutters alongside the lounge, while Panasonic has opened a creative space called Square Lab Ferment for testing its sewing and kitchen appliances.

Also nearby is Car Life Lab, consisting of two airy industrial buildings showcasing car-related books, exhibitions and promotions, with a fleet of Vauxhall’s latest e-vehicles currently on display.

Although the Daikanyama complex was designed to attract a booming “silver age” community, the place is frequently filled with a much younger demographic, including young families and professionals. The Shonan T-Site is similarly expected to tap into both markets, attracting not only the young families living in Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town but neighboring communities, in particular those close to the sea.

“Being located only a few kilometers from Enoshima, Shonan and Tsujido beaches, the demographic is younger and more ‘slow life’ than Daikanyama,” explains Mark Dytham, who co-designed the space with KDa partner Astrid Klein. “This has resulted in the building and interiors being more relaxed. There is a lighter feel in the building, with light-grey wooden shelves and watery blue hues for the furniture.”

The concept of a curated lifestyle, however, remains the same in both spaces, Dytham says. “The goal of the space is, as Tsutaya puts it, ‘cultural navigation.’ In an era when you can get everything online, what’s the point of shopping? I have 13 million Spotify tracks on my phone but don’t know what to play. Virtually everything is available on Amazon. The T-Site projects give you something you cannot get online: curation and concierges who know intimately about which section they oversee, whether it’s cars, food, travel, design, photography, fashion.”

Among the in-house specialists is Norito Yokota, 58, a former product and interior designer in charge of the design section of the books. He describes with enthusiasm how he has hand-selected every book on display. “We wanted to sell books that are accessible to people from all backgrounds in terms of design — for beginners as well as businesses,” Yokota says.

Dytham adds: “It is very much an extension of your house. It’s your bookshelf, your music collection, it’s your lounge, it’s your office, it’s your coffee shop.”

And, it seems, it’s also your convenience store, in the most tasteful way imaginable.

Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town
Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town | COURTESY OF PANASONIC

High-tech community development project becoming a reality in Fujisawa

Houses that generate their own energy, solar-powered street lighting, electric vehicle sharing and iPad-style devices connecting everyone in the community — this may sound like a utopian vision of the future. This scene, however, is already a reality in Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, a ¥60 billion project masterminded by Panasonic along with more than a dozen leading Japanese industry partners.

The 19-hectare town, located at the site of a former Panasonic factory in Kanagawa Prefecture, taps into the latest Japanese technology in terms of energy generation, sustainable architecture, urban planning and high-tech smart grids, with 120 homes already sold and 1,000 to be completed by 2018.

And Shonan T-Site is clearly designed to take center stage. A clue that this is no ordinary retail development can be spotted glinting in the sunlight just below a terrace of tables, sun umbrellas and green foliage — an expanse of large solar panels.

A total of 414 solar panels, generating 100,000 kilowatts of energy, stretches alongside one edge of the development, reflecting the project’s commitment to creating a community with 34 percent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions compared to buildings built in 1990.

Describing how Shonan T-Site reflects the lifestyle that goes hand in hand with the community project, Yayoi Watanabe, a spokeswoman for Panasonic, says: “We are not simply aiming to develop a town underpinned by advanced technology-based infrastructure, but a town based on actual lifestyles. T-Site is a key base for sending out the information of these new lifestyles developed in this town to the world. It is not a site just for selling goods, it is a place for inspiring residents and visitors, nurturing new lifestyles.”

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