Monocle April This month's issue of Monocle magazine (a cross between the Economist and Wallpaper magazine) takes a closer look at the future of retail, focusing on the "smartest shopkeepers, best buyers, happiest consumers and sharpest ideas on the street, in the aisles and online." If you think the smartest ideas are coming out of the U.S. or Western Europe, think again.

Monocle acknowledges -- even apologizes for the fact -- that most of the really innovative thinking about retail is taking place in Japan: "Japan's economy may well have been in the dumps for far too long but it's made it the most gracious place to part with cash, be inspired and receive peerless service. Breathtaking innovation, Japanese culture and fierce competition are what keeps it moving forward."

With that as backdrop, here are a few of the Japanese innovators at the top of their game:

Best shop designer: Masamichi Katayama of Wonderwall
Best mix of fashion and function: Hirofumi Kiyonaga of Soph (Tokyo)
Most clever retail concept: Hankyu Department Store at Nishinomiya (Osaka)
Most innovative merchandiser: Hirofumi Kurino of United Arrows (Tokyo)
Best airport gift store: Tokyo's Tokyo
Most innovative retailer: Tadashi Yanai of Fast Retailing

[Monocle cover: Sales Assistant at Soph)