November 07, 2016

The Oldest Department Store In Japan
Exploring Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi Store


From dried bonitos to seaweed, Japanese paper to traditional confectionary, Nihonbashi is a place where the long-established stores of those kind make a long row on the street. The face of this place, is the oldest department store in Japan; the Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi Store. The main building is completed in the year 1914, and is designated as an important cultural property. There is a free tour to look around the store every once a month. We heard this tour is popular through tourists, so tried to have a look.

From A Kimono Store To A Department Store

The store exploring tour happens on second Saturday of every months, one in the morning from 11:30 and another one in the afternoon from 14:30pm. The tour starts from the Lion Entrance of the main building. You will first need to go to the guidance counter to sign up, get a headphone and a leaflet, and a paper bag filled with some souvenir. How good is that when this is a free tour? A person who is in charge as a guide is the “Mother” of Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi Store, Kiyoko Kondo, who is been working for the store for consecutive 30 years. It is a known fact that Mitsukoshi used to be a kimono store called “Echigoya” before becoming a department store. During Edo era they delivered services such as lending umbrellas to customers on rainy days, selling kimono fabric by pieces, and selling at list prices. By listening to Kiyoko who is properly dressed in kimono, it somewhat makes it sounds familiar to us as if she just came out from Edo era to tell us that.

In 1904, Mitsukoshi Echigoya announces a “Declaration of Department Store”. What’s become iconic is the Lion statue. Hibi Ou Suke, the representative of Mitsukosi at that time, went to Harrods in Britain for inspection, and was deeply impressed by the Lion statue at the Trafalgar Square. He asked the same creator of the statue for an order, and the statue was shipped from England. In the year 1914, the Lion statue was installed at Mitsukoshi.



A Masterpiece
– The Statue Of Celestial Maiden At The Lobby

The main building was completed in 1935, and it is designated as important cultural property in May 2016. It is the interesting part of the tour, where they will show you this historical building from all kind of different angles.
You are first taken to the basement floor which is connected to Mitsukoshi Mae station of Tokyo Metro. What you’ll see there are the art deco inspired pillars, and a replica of picture scroll “Kidaishouran”. This picture scroll depicts the scenery around the Nihonbashi area and you can spot big Mitsukoshi Echigoya building surrounded with various merchants and people walking the streets.
After seeing historical pillars that are also earthquake resistant, you may now go inside the main building. On the marble wall that connects the basement food floor to 1st floor is a fossil of Ammonite that is probably the biggest in Tokyo. According to Kiyoko, this main building uses so much of marbles and is also surprising to hear that within the building there are about 3000 fossils of Ammonite.

Forwarding to the 1st floor center hall, we are hearing some sound of pipe organ. If you are making a very first entrance to Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi Store, you will definitely be surprised by this space. In this open ceiling space that continues until 5th floor, there is a massive statue of Celestial Maiden that is 11 meters tall standing in the middle. Behind that are elegant stairs spreading like wings and the pipe organ that is making sound. The ceiling with art deco inspired stained glasses are made in 1935. Pipe organ is from Wurlitzer in New York made in 1930. From this time, the place is for “giving dream and excitement” as well as “offering music”. By hearing that, we can understand Mitsukoshi as not just a shopping spot but also as trend setting base.

Moving onto the 3rd floor, we now look at the statue of Celestial Maiden from various angles. The statue is made out of wood, and took about 10 years to complete. It depicts the scene where the maiden is coming through clouds to land onto the center of a flower. Its production cost was about 150 million yen (which is about 5 billion yen nowadays), and involved about a hundred thousand people in order to complete this massive art. Much recommended to experience its magnificent aura.



World Of Kimono In Depth – being thankful as you know more –

At the 4th floor is the biggest kimono selling floor in Japan. It is now Mr. Ozawa, who is also dressed in kimono representing the gentleman of Nihonbashi, to take us around to show the area. The first thing he showed us was the kimono fabric samples that was kept from Meiji Era. The samples are in little pieces, and these are kept until now in order to keep records of weave patterns of different kinds. Each pieces are in delicate coloring, and show us deep history of kimono print.

He also showed us “Yuukitsumugi” and “Echigojoufu” which are the kimono fabric regeistered as cultural heritage of UNESCO, and explained how long and process-taking it is to weave these kinds of fabric. One of the Yuukitsumugi fabric he showed us had a price tag of 7 million yen, and yet the fabric was still for ‘everyday wear’. It makes us shiver to even touch these fabric. Sensing our fear, Mr.Ozawa makes a note to us that there are much more reasonable kimonos as well. It is probably faster to become a friend with kimono merchant if you want to learn the kimono world. Apparently the kimono area introduction content differs every time, so the next tour will be something unexpected again.

The tour finishes by looking at the 6th floor and the 7th floor. On the 6th floor are the Mitsukoshi theatre that is completed in 1972, and an art saloon. On the 7th is a “Hajimari no Cafe” where there are several events and workshops held everyday. This 75 minutes of tour is filled with intellectual pleasure covering not only about the Mitsukoshi, but also about the Nihonbashi history and some discovery on kimono. It is recommended to book the tour beforehand, but if there are open slot then you can join on the day as well. They also offer the tours to international tourists when there are translators available.




Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Honten

Address: 1-4-1, Muromachi, Nihonbashi, Chūō-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3241-3311

Opening Hours
10:30 ~ 19:30 (9th floor on the new building, 10th floor restaurants area are open from 11:00 through 22:00)

CLOSING DATE: Irregular (Please check on the website for the closing day information)





photographer / TETSUO KASHIWADA

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