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The newly rebuilt Marunouchi Building symbolizes the huge transformation that is taking place in the hub of corporate business activity in the capital.

The 180-meter, 37-story office building opened this month boasting 140 shops and restaurants. Its eight-story predecessor, which was the country’s first modern office building in 1923, fronted Tokyo Station until its demolition in 1997.

The old building was popularly known as the “Maru Biru” and served as the face of the Marunouchi district, where a number of major Japanese corporations maintain their headquarters.

The new building, which formally opened its doors Sept. 6, will retain the Maru Biru name and is the latest in a wave of large-scale urban renewal projects taking place in downtown Tokyo, including the Nihonbashi, Shiodome and Shinagawa areas.

Construction has flourished since debate stalled on relocating the functions of the capital elsewhere in Japan, and now the area is trying shed its “businessman” image.

For years, the street along the back of the Maru Biru had a “Japan Inc.” atmosphere and was devoid of people on weekends and holidays. A brighter mood has replaced that recently, with the area now home to a number of upscale boutiques, restaurants and cafes.

Advertisements, one featuring giant, red high heels strolling toward Maru Biru, reflect efforts to market the area toward women.

Officials of Mitsubishi Estate Co., which owns Maru Biru, say they want the office district to also be a place where people can enjoy food and entertainment.

Meanwhile, the renewal of the neighboring Nihonbashi district, is also under way, with an emphasis on blending its shopping tradition with a new sense of commerce, including a high-rise complex under construction in the area’s Takaracho section by the long-established Sembikiya fruit parlor company and Mitsui Fudosan Co.

International hotel chain Mandarin Oriental is scheduled to move into the area behind Mitsui Honkan, the Western-style building that served as the former headquarters of financial-industrial combines under the control of the Mitsui family, one of the “zaibatsu” that reigned over Japan’s business, financial and industrial worlds until the end of World War II. The building, built in the 1920s, has been designated an important cultural asset.

U.S.-based brokerage Merrill Lynch plans to move its Tokyo offices into a building complex, scheduled to be completed in 2004, in a section of Nihonbashi that was home to the former Tokyu Department Store.

A Mitsui Fudosan official said that such active construction hasn’t been seen in Nihonbashi since the latter half of the 1950s.

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