Long before reportedly becoming the world’s first department store, the enterprise now known as Mitsukoshi was revolutionising retail practices in Japan. Originally established in 1673 under the name of Echigoya, Mitsukoshi became the first company to break with the Middle Ages tradition of selling door-to-door, instead enticing customers to its kimono store in what is currently central Tokyo. Now, almost 350 years later, the Mitsukoshi brand is famous around the globe, gracing several of the world’s capital cities and boasting 18 stores in Japan alone. Its claim to fame is further enhanced by the fact it was founded by the Mitsui family, and is thus part-responsible for the growth of one of the world’s largest trading companies.
Mitsukoshi’s main store and headquarters are presently located in Nihonbashi, a powerful stone’s throw from the Bank of Japan. The company has maintained a presence on the existing site since 1683, although the architecture has obviously undergone several redesigns. Currently, the imposing 95-year-old Rennaisance-style Mitsukoshi buildings, which span several blocks, represent everything that is glamorous about shopping in Japan, holding similar status to Harrods of London and Galeries Lafayette of Paris. The main entrance is adorned with large bronze lion statues, reportedly replicas of those in London’s Trafalgar Square. These icons have become the most popular meeting place in the area, for young friends and distinguished business-folk alike.
The history of the Mitsukoshi Head Store, once labelled ‘the greatest architectural asset east of the Suez Canal,’ is certainly eventful. In 1914, it housed what was claimed to be Japan’s first escalators. Nine years afterwards, as with much else in Tokyo, it was burned to cinders during the Great Kanto Earthquake – and rebuilt two years later. In 1927, it claimed to stage Japan’s first fashion show in the area now known as Mitsukoshi Theatre. In 1932, business was boosted by the completion of Mitsukoshimae Subway Station, which was built into the basement floor of the department store. Then, during the Allied Occupation of 1945-52, the eighth floor was actually converted into a Catholic Church.
In 2010, Mitsukoshi Head Store continued to attract locals and tourists in their millions, its wide range of coin lockers for luggage making it particularly convenient for the latter. Several international brand names are housed within (Ralph Lauren is the latest), with armies of dapper staff forever seeking to charm customers with their smiles. Store highlights include the legendary kimono section, currently located on the fourth floor. There are seven restaurants on the upper floors of Mitsukoshi, serving pricey but enjoyable Chinese and Japanese cooking, including an impressive array of shark fin dishes. Ten cafes are also on site, including one which bears the Harrods name. With grilled food and even a pizzeria occupying the basement, shoppers are spoiled for bank-account-threatening choice when it comes to dining.
Since establishing its Fine Arts Department in 1907, Mitsukoshi has enjoyed a long and fruitful connection with the art world and a section of its sixth floor is permanently devoted to the exhibitions of established and up-and-coming artists; an art display at Mitsukoshi is considered to be the pinnacle of every young artist’s aspirations, especially due to the well-connected and well-endowed nature of the clientele.