Discussion of dining halls and war on pp. 81-82.
Discussion of architectural styles, pp. 296-326.
Overall a broadly ranging but richly detailed work.
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Gateway to Western Wonders.
Mitsukoshi; Customer agency; Crowd control; Social class; Social science.
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 rarefied the goods and atmosphere.
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.