For an account of expositions and crowd behavior, see 45-50.
For account of changing physical space of department stores, see pp. 172-177.
For discussion of model consumers, see pp. 181-183.
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Mitsukoshi: Consuming Places
Mitsukoshi Department Store's imposing structures have brought spectacle to the experience of upscale shopping in Japan from the early twentieth century. (For further reading, begin with Hatsuda Tōru in Japanese and Kerrie MacPherson and Noriko Aso in English.) The distinctive spatiality of Mitsukoshi was also shared with customers outside as well as within major metropolitan areas through the retailer's various catalogs and high-end journals.
In this module, we explore the pages of a wartime run of Mitsukoshi issues, published from 1939 to 1943. The issues opened up for readers not just store interiors but also external spaces, including households and factories, networks of production as well as consumption, and an imperial expansiveness long forgotten in the postwar. These wartime issues reveal how Mitsukoshi’s two- as well as three-dimensional bodies and structures were deeply rooted in an imagined geography of “East” and “West,” whose boundaries were not as clear and stable upon close inspection as they might have appeared from a distance.
"Mitsukoshi: Consuming Places" is intended to function, not so much as a textbook, but as a contextualized archive of visual images and texts. Questions rather than answers are at the heart of this teaching resource. Sometimes they are explicitly articulated, but they can also be generated by a visitor's own context and interests. The materials are sorted by themes, which include gender and imperialism, and present multiple ways of imagining and experiencing spaces. A given set of images and texts will often posses internal tensions or present conflicts with other sets to explore, and it is hoped that visitors will come up with further ways to challenge and organize the materials.
There are three pathways in this module, but visitors should also consider following tags and other forms of links in Bodies and Structures to jump within the module, or across modules. The first pathway provides an initial look at how the retail space of the Mitsukoshi Department came to be, and how central the peopling of this site was to the process. The second pathway introduces the store's journal, Mitsukoshi, and shows how its pages contained a multitude of spaces that variously reinforced, reimagined, or undermined the nature of the store's cultural authority. The third pathway focuses on the store's imperial expansiveness, and concludes with the question of what changes when we pay attention to the dimensionality of the past.
A New Kind of Consumer Space
Echigoya; Bon Marché; Mitsukoshi; Customers; Clerks; Exhibitionary Complex.
Reimagining space—how bodies engaged with structures—was key to the transformation of Echigoya, a Tokugawa-era dry goods store, into Mitsukoshi, a pioneering modern department store (百貨店 hyakkaten or デパート depaato) in Japan.
In the Tokugawa era, customers would wait sitting in an open interior space while a clerk searched out goods to satisfy their needs and tastes. As was and is Japanese custom, customers would take off their outdoor footwear before entering the interior and wear slippers.
Yet a central aspect of a Western-style department store experience was that customers did not have to depend on clerks for access to commodities. Rather, they could walk around freely to peruse displays and even to touch some goods. Permitting customers to wear outdoor footwear indoors violated Japanese sensibilities, so it took time and transitional measures to finally arrive at the open access interior taken for granted today. Some experiments included: sitting at a counter open to the exterior with clerks bringing goods; having a divided interior, one portion reserved for clerks serving customers in the old way, and another for cases that customers could walk around; and having customers switch into slippers to walk around at will among various counters and displays. The latter practice ended when Mitsukoshi inadvertently misplaced the footwear of a large crowd of customers.
The physical transformation of the retailer was greatly inspired by close study of specific Western department stores, such as Harrods or Le Bon Marché, and contributed to the growth of a Japanese "exhibitionary complex." This term coined by Tony Bennett points to a set of institutions of exhibition, including expositions and museums as well as department stores, that worked with institutions of confinement, most famously the panopticon prison, to promote a distinctively modern form of social order. Bennett argues in a Foucauldian vein that, by promoting seeing as well as enforcing being seen, such institutions instilled an ultimately self-disciplined submission to social dictates. The Meiji state certainly invested heavily in expositions and museums in order to cultivate a sense of mobilization in the newly established nation for industrialization, and later, for war. Like department stores, the modern state's exhibition sites dramatically changed the nature of a visit. Rules of comportment were always posted, so that, for example, drunkenness and dogs were no longer permitted in such public spaces. If we look at Japanese department stores, expositions, and museums together as a "complex," we see that their promises of newly expanded access were accompanied by new definitions of appropriate behavior, which were subtly and sometimes unsubtly enforced by the crowd as well as authorities.
For a basic timeline, Mitsukoshi provides a corporate history spanning the late seventeenth to the twenty-first century. War and empire, however, do not make much of an appearance in this timeline. Wikipedia provides a more compartmentalized but detailed account. If you are interested in Japan's exhibitionary complex, I recommend that you explore the National Diet Library's digital presentation, "Expositions."
Mitsukoshi; Advertising; Models; Consumers; Women; Family.
Even though Kon Wajirō's research team found that the numbers of male and female customers were roughly equal, an evolution in Mitsukoshi's model type reveals the retailer's desire to identify the store as a space configured specifically for women. Before and during the transformation of Mitsukoshi into a Western-style department store, the retailer frequently employed popular geisha as models for its latest textile patterns or to draw attention to an upcoming event. These women were chosen for their ability to attract male attention, which made sense in the early modern period, when the majority of its customers were, in fact, men. However, as Mitsukoshi cemented its identity by the 1910s, it turned to a new kind of model, one intended to attract women (as well as men).
Instead of geisha, the recurring image in posters and other forms of advertisement was a woman portrayed as a Mitsukoshi customer. Generally, these women were young matrons shown at leisure, perhaps reading or playing music, in gorgeously appointed households, or in transit, waiting for a subway or walking on a street, on the way to or from Mitsukoshi. In short, these models were aspirational figures.
The store space itself was also explicitly designed to invite female customers in their role as household managers, offering children’s fairs, model rooms, an elegant dining hall and resting areas, and more. In contrast, European and American department stores targeted women as individuals. A Mitsukoshi representative sent abroad in 1932 was struck by how heavily tilted the gender ratios for Western department store customers were: “Parisian department store customers are 99 percent adult women, with very few male customers. About the only time one sees children brought along or the family as a group like in Japan is during Christmas sales.” While Western department stores employed floor detectives to catch individual customers so overcome with desire that they fell prey to the temptation to shoplift, Japanese department stores were able to put in place an exhibitionary self-regulation regime by attracting families. The household, in this context characterized by female leadership and not by female isolation, would keep an eye on itself to uphold respectability.