Apple will open its first retail store outside the US in Tokyo in 2004, the company announced yesterday.

The news confirms a report to that effect from AsiaPulse in February. The Tokyo store will be in the city's Ginza shopping district, and will be a flagship outlet, like the company's SoHo store in New York.

Apple also announced its intention to open 20 new retail stores over the coming 12 months. The news marks the second anniversary of the company's retail strategy. It now has 57 retail stores in 26 states across the US. Over 15 million visitors have visited the stores in this time, and over $650 million of products have been sold. The stores currently employ around 1,100 workers.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs said: "In just two years Apple has changed the face of computer retailing for over 15 million people that have visited our 57 stores throughout the US.

"During the next 12 months we will extend our reach even further by opening 20 more stores, including three new high-profile stores in Chicago, San Francisco and Tokyo," he said.

With the announcement of its road map for retail through until early 2004, Apple offered no details regarding future expansion of its retail outlets into Europe.

Apple VP of Europe Pascal Cagni told the Sunday Business newspaper in February that the company hoped to develop its own retail chain in key western European locations, including London and Paris. He revealed Apple's hope to launch a European retail chain within six to 18 months.

Apple later denied the claims.