Bodies and Structures

Mitsukoshi's Expansion Before 1945

This path highlights an imagined as well as physical imperial geography for Mitsukoshi, inconvenient to recall in the postwar political order. Their erasure smoothed the way for the retailer's re-identification with "Western modernity," particularly individual consumerism. However, how Mitsukoshi located itself during the war was more complicated. As Mitsukoshi struggled to "correct" its tilt toward the West under an imperial Japanist regime, its identity fragmented into seemingly competing spheres. Mitsukoshi ventured into the spaces of workshops, factories, and battle fronts even as it celebrated prominent Western artists, peaceful studios, and whimsical collectors' exhibits. On the one hand, this conflict led to withdrawal and exhaustion for Mitsukoshi by the end of the war. The journal ceased publication in 1943. On the other, its capacity to oscillate between production and consumption, expansion and retreat, Japanism and Western ways, suggests that Mitsukoshi should be analyzed along all these lines, before, during, and after the war. That is, we should not confine ourselves to concepts and categories that have aligned with Occupation ideology.

Mitsukoshi's collaboration with the Japanese state did not suddenly begin during the total war years of 1937-1945. Far from it: all of the major Japanese department stores had from the turn of the twentieth century provided active and profitable support. They fiercely competed for marks of imperial approval, from awards at expositions to orders from the Imperial Household Ministry, while national holidays, imperial weddings, and visiting dignitaries presented capital opportunities to fly the "Hinomaru" (the rising sun flag) and offer special exhibits, merchandise and menus. Much of this was faithfully reported in the pages of Mitsukoshi.

This was also true for earlier government military ventures. During the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War, Mitsukoshi sold decorative towels, handkerchiefs, flags, laurel wreaths and many other sundries with images of Japanese military triumphs, published patriotic tales, and draped the premises with flags to celebrate victory.

Thereafter, Mitsukoshi and its rivals reliably cheered on the growth of the Japanese colonial empire with exhibitions, goods, and, in the case of Mitsukoshi, with the establishment of colonial outposts, which during the Asia-Pacific War followed in the wake of Japanese invasion.

In the early 1930s, Mitsukoshi solidified its cultural influence on the continent by opening branch stores in Seoul and Dalian. Their impressive architectural fronts—Art Deco for Seoul and Renaissance for Dalian—proclaimed Mitsukoshi's self-appointed role as a Japanese mediator of a Western modernity for Asia. The Seoul branch, in particular, quickly became a public landmark, and remains so under the current Korean ownership as Shinsegae. Mitsukoshi in Seoul—as in Tokyo—showcased the crowds with an open center cutting across floors, a grand staircase sweeping up from the ground level, and a rooftop garden from which the city could be surveyed. The store was a magnet for Korean "modern girls" and "modern boys" as well as members of the intelligentsia who leaned toward Western "modernization" in a Japanese mode.

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