Building Memories - The History of Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Part 4
Our journey through the history of Nihombashi Mitsukoshi now takes us to the Taisho era (1912 - 1926). As we saw in previous entries the proceeding Meiji period is categorised by a dialogue between Japanese tradition and new culture garnered from the west. However, as we enter Taisho a subtle but important change takes place, that in conjunction with the bold building works instigated in Meiji that rendered the building completely in stone completed in Taisho 3 (1914). We see in the store not a constantly shifting mix of cultures, but the advent of a fixed hybrid culture that does not draw a hard line between Japan and the west. This new identity born of modernity was exemplified by the installation in Taisho 3 to mark the completion of the new face of Nihombashi Mitsukoshi of one of the most popular symbols of the store, the lion statues that to this day welcomes patrons to the store; a symbol western in origin, but now given new life in the context of modern Japan.
The sheer scale of this new stone building complete with gleaming bronze lion and electric lighting was clearly a sight to behold in the era, becoming a community gathering point that drew people from far and wide as those seeking a gateway to this new modern Japan flocked to it to shop or just to see the spectacle. Accordingly we find some elements in store that reflect the striking difference between the people's home and daily life, and the modernity represented by the store. Japan's first escalators and elevators carried customers between floors, and yet until Taisho 14 (1925) patrons would take their shoes off when entering the store, with many areas in store still tatami floored until that point. Likewise western style tables and chairs for sale would be found sitting on tatami, and Japanese traditional wagasa umbrellas jostling with western styles. In this era these new styles were no longer necessarily imported, but now often made in Japan and a part of modern Japan, but still yet to be introduced to some customers. In this way, the building became a portal to modernity, the majority of visitors to the store at the time still welcomed wearing kimono, and yet being introduced to new western products that would go on to revolutionise their lives.
This vision of modern Japan was quite literally shaken to its very foundations in Taisho 12 (1923) when the Great Kanto earthquake decimated the Nihombashi area leaving very little in the capital unharmed. In the midst of this destruction, a temporary store was immediately opened and just two short years later in Taisho 14 (1925) the store would reopen, its spirit of kinetic progress unimpeded and the lion statue stationed back at the front entrance to welcome customers once again. Join us in the next part of this series as we look to the Showa era where many more iconic features of Nihombashi Mitsukoshi find their roots.
Top Image: On completion of the store-wide renovations in June of Taisho 10 (1921) the store became so crowded inside that entry at the front entrance had to be temporarily limited.