History & Culture

Building Memories - The History of Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Part 3


157_01.jpgIn the previous part of our look deep into the history of Nihombashi Mitsukoshi we left our story deep in the midst of Meiji era (1868-1912) Japan, a time of great social and cultural upheaval for Japan as whole, which continued the spark ignited in Edo that placed Tokyo at the centre of this whirlwind of change. It is worth remembering that at the advent of Meiji the store was still focused on kimono but as its changed its trading name from "Echigoya" to the general partnership company "Mitsui Gofukuten" in Meiji 29 (1896) it reflected the changing fashion of the city beyond gradually incorporating Western tailoring into its repertoire. This in itself was something in a revolution in and of itself, as until this point Japanese merchant culture was generally focused on each shop being an expert in a single subject, very rarely moving beyond their field. In parallel with the store itself actively seeking fresh ideas from abroad where department segmented shopping in a single store had been long-popularized in Europe and America, this made the decision for the store to declare itself Japan's first department store all the more logical by Meiji 37 (1904) as it joined the institutions around it in Nihombashi in seeking their own renaissance to match the era.


In three short years the store had opened its very first cafeteria within the shop and a fine arts department by Meiji 40 (1907), revolutionary for the time. In this period the wooden structure of the store captures it in a state of flux, at points finding new western novelties such as straw hats framed in distinctly Japanese settings, and at others offering open layouts with glass cases that are not dissimilar from the present were it not for the tatami floor. Along with western ideas and products, the first wave of foreign customers were greeted in store, with special lounges built in an opulent Louis XV European style to ensure that they felt welcome while still able to experience the Japanese omotenashi spirit first hand.

157_03.jpgThe importation of the western institutions such as nationwide banking in the neighboring Bank of Japan as well as the department store necessitated buildings to match, and in this period we see a rapid expansion of stone architecture in the Nihombashi area that also extended to the store itself. This new building work was set in motion in Meiji 44 (1911) to be completed in Taisho 3 (1914) where the Nihombashi Mitsukoshi store emerged in a manner not entirely alien to the one we now know. Join us in Part 4 to see that landmark iteration for yourself, and the effect it had on the city beyond its walls at the time.

Photo 1: Tatami matted women's umbrella and footwear sales floor photographed in Meiji 41 (1908).
Photo 2: Tatami matted kimono section display photographed in Meiji 28 (1895).
Photo 3: Louis XV style lounge photographed in Meiji 41 (1908).

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