Bodies and Structures

The Shape of Postwar Memories

This module explores Mitsukoshi's multiple forms of spatiality in order to highlight the the porousness of its architectural shell.  That is, instead of thinking of the store as just an attractive container, we can see it as a distinctive threshold for the circulation of people, things, and ideas.  As Mitsukoshi emerged as a cultural as well as physical landmark, it in turn came to shape the very contexts and networks that fueled its success.

The module suggests that one of the key networks intertwined with the store was Japan's growing empire in Asia. However, the goal of this exploration of wartime journals is not meant to end discussion by concluding that the store was "really" a militant imperialist.  Rather, we see oscillation in and across issues between promoting war and peace, modernity and the past, production and consumption, and other linked binaries.  This suggests that neither pole could satisfactorily ground the retailer's identity and mission.  Rather than presuming mutual conceptual construction at play, if we track this particular case we find that the ongoing oppositions resulted in the journal's exhaustion and retreat.

Postwar memory has excised Mitsukoshi's collaboration with colonial expansion and the wartime state, burying shame but also turning a "Westernized" identity into an alibi. John Dower, Yoshikuni Igarashi, and others have provided sharp analyses of the decisions made in how to end the war; how to conduct the American Occupation and how to accept it; how to define the seeming universalism of capitalism and democracy.  The collective weight of such positions has profoundly shaped mainstream memories of what a Westernized institution like a department store must (surely) have meant.  And what it could (should) not have meant: that "Westernization" and "modernization" were at the heart of that calamitous world war that engulfed the Asia-Pacific.

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