Bodies and Structures

Mitsukoshi Department Store: Equivocal Placement

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 Department Store: Equivocal Placement" 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.

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