Bodies and Structures

Gateway to Western Wonders

Placing People (2)

In 1904, the Mitsukoshi dry goods store proclaimed its transformation into a modern department store.  This was presented as a new kind of participatory space for (consumer) freedom, but also as a hub for knowledge regarding Western innovations, and at the same time an archive for traditional taste. 

In 1914, this commitment was fulfilled in the remodeled Nihombashi site, billed as a new wonder for the Tokyo metropolis. Its architecture evoked the European Renaissance, with elegant windows and even a cupola to lighten its impressive height and mass.  A few steps in, a customer would find him- or herself at the base of an atrium that soared to the top of the five retail floors. 

Beauty vied with practicality in this choice of structure: the nineteenth century was a period of experimentation in Europe and the United States for architectural crowd control.  Allowing a member of the crowd to observe others, while maintaining awareness of being observed, had been proven well worth the lost retail area in discouraging such poor behavior as shoplifting and prompting a sense of high class decorum.

A new level of customer service was highlighted throughout: the first floor provided a smoking room, an information desk, and a pickup station for purchases. The second floor offered a pattern room and consultations for weddings and other such major events. On the third floor were fitting rooms for Western clothing, watch repair, and more. On the fourth floor hosted a dining hall, a more private dining room, a library, and a “child research” room. The fifth and final retail floor featured areas for telephone sales, branch services, and the like. Every floor had bathrooms with the latest in plumbing, and all but the fifth provided elegant rest areas variously styled as Secession, Jacobean, Adam, or Louis XVI. Mitsukoshi’s flagship store was explicitly configured to provide its customers with a Western, modern, spectacular, public experience. 

There were no barriers to prevent customers from idly wandering from floor to floor; indeed, a sense of shopping as entertainment was positively encouraged.  Nevertheless, at the same time, sorting by class was also carried out by the structure of the building. The basement was for food stuffs to be purchased by maids, and the higher one climbed, the more rarified the goods and atmosphere.

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