Through closely examining the case of Mitsukoshi department store, the first modern department store in Japan, this paper argues that the birth of the Japanese department stores bears a clear trace to the socio-cultural backdrop of Meiji restoration, an era that can be summarized by the state motto, “civilization and enlightenment”. Therefore, unlike its Western counterparts, Japanese department stores are not only commercial institutions but also cultural institutions that function to define modern and cultured life. Part I of this paper will provide an overview of the idea of Japanese department stores as cultural institutions. Then, the paper proceeds to explore the historical and cultural context of Japanese department stores and Mitsukoshi department store, focusing on the concept of department store as a missionary of civilization. Part III will illustrate how mitsukoshi acted as a taste cultivator for the burgeoning urban middle class, Yamanotezoko, who were the new clientele of Mitsukoshi and eager to legitimate their social status through demonstrating a refined taste. Part IV concentrates on elaborating how Mitsukoshi acted as an art entrepreneur in the land that was new to the idea of fine art and thriving with growing consumer cultures. This paper aims to answer the following question: how did a commercial institution function as a prominent cultural institution in a land that was new to concept of “fine art” and thriving with burgeoning urban middle class?
Japanese department stores and Western department stores have a very different origin. When department stores sprang up in the major Euro-American cities, it was a special time in Euro-American world; it was the time when the rise of the bourgeoisie enriched and colored the cultural landscape in Europe. Whereas, Japanese department stores could be viewed as the end product of Meiji Restoration, an era of Westernization, to showcase the “civilization and enlightenment” of Japan. Therefore, the Japaneses discourse surrounding department store bears a clear trace of the socio-cultural logic behind its development. The social history and cultural dimensions inflecting and informing the discourse revolving around Japanese department store are inscribed into Japanese department stores today.
More precisely, the Japanese discourse surrounding department stores has far transcended the idea of department stores as “the cathedral of modern commerce”, a term Émil Zola used to decribe social function of department stores in the 19th century (Sapin 2004, 317). In Japan, department stores are not only commercial institutions but also cultural institutions that actively engage in the symbolic production of cultured life. In addition, Japanese department store epitomizes many aspects of modern cultural institutions. They plays a crucial role in the production, exhibition, circulation and consumption of art. As Younjung Oh (2012) remarks “Department stores had a pronounced and lasting impact on art and visual culture in modern Japan”, and Mitsukoshi department store, the first modern department store in Japan, offers us a good example to examine the idea illustrated above (1).
2. Mitsukoshi Department Store: a Missionary of Civilization
Japanese Department Stores in Context
With the rise of the vital bourgeoisie in the mid-19th century, department stores sprang up in the major Euro-American cities, including London, Paris and New York. Department stores were the new social and commercial spaces inscribed with the voluptous lifestyle of the bourgeoisie. As the French intellectual, Émil Zola, remarked “ The department store tends to replace the church. It marches to the religion of the cash desk, of beauty, of coquetry, and fashion” ( Tamari 2006, 115). Accordingly, department stores became “ the cathedral of modern commerce”, as Émil Zola put it in his 1883 novel Bonheue des Dames (Sapin 2004, 317).
Eventually, the trend reached Japan in the early 20th century, but with a twist. Against the backdrop of Meiji Restoration, an era of Westernization and social reconstruction in Japan, Japanese department stores were established. In response to the nineteenth-century West expansion to Asia, clashes with the intrusive West and the superiority of Western technologies and weaponry, Japan unfolded the Meiji Restoration in 1868, an era characterized with the state motto bunmei kaika, or civilization and enlightenment. Being Western was the synonym for “being modern” back to that time. “To be seen as Western was virtually synonymous with being counted as high and privileged class”, as Younjung Oh (2012) illustrates it (342). As it is indicated in the state slogan “datsu a nyu ou”, which literally means “break away from Asian and merge into Europe”, westernization was encouraged in every aspect of daily life, ranging from clothing, dining habit, and housing.
The emergence of Japanese department stores can be situated within the lineage of Westernization movement during the Meiji Restoration. As Younjung Oh (2012) notes, ” Coincidentally or not, students of Fukuzawa Yukichi, Meiji Japan’s most ardent promoter of Western values and practices, came to work as key personnel for major department stores and carried out a series of modernizing reforms of the stores.” (342-343). Therefore, Japanese department stores can be considered as institutions that instruct the ordinary Japanese how to socialize into the Western ways of consumption and living. Moreover, in many ways, Japanese department stores were also interfaces to modernity. According to Brian Moeran (1998), the Japanese department store was “a dream world where western, and thus bourgeois, culture was on display.” (142). It offered the masses an entrée into the bunka seikatsu, or cultured life (Young 1999, 65). In this regard, department stores in Japan were more like “missionaries of civilization” or “epitome of modern civilization”, rather than ” the cathedral of commerce” (Young 1999, 56；Sapin 2004, 317 ；Oh 2012, 343). Ironically, like the museums, which is a “sign of civilization” , as Andrew McClellan (2008) phrases it, in a land that was aspired to be merged into the Western civilized world, department store was also treated as a sign of civilization(4) .
Mitsukoshi Department Store in Historical and Cultural Context
Mitsukoshi is widely considered as the first modern department store in Japan (Moeran 1998；Tamari 2006). The origin of Mitsukoshi department store can be traced back to 1673, when Mitsui Takatoshi opened echigoya, kimono store, in both Kyoto and Edo.
Echigoya pioneered in “ cash sales at fixed prices”, as its 1683 slogan puts it (Mitsukoshi Ltd. 2005, 16) . In 1895, Yoshio Takahashi, a firm believer in Fukuzawa Yukichi’s policy, took over Mitsui Gofukuten, the predecessor of Mitsukoshi department store. Inspired by the visit to Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia  during his time studying in the United States, Takahashi abolished the zauri system, “where products are not displayed in the stores but instead are stored at the backs, and clerks bring out the products to the customers upon their request”, as Mitsukoshi defines it, and transformed the whole Nihonbashi store into display area in 1900 (Mitsukoshi Ltd. 2005, 16; Moeran 1998, 145-146). The innovative spirit is descended to Mitsukoshi’s development in the early 20th century.
In the December of 1904, Mitsukoshi issued ” Department Store Proclamation” to its customers and business partners, and in the beginning of following year, the proclamation was placed as full-page advertisement in several major newspapers, which marked its official conversion from gofukuten, or traditional Japanese drapery to modern department store (Morea 1998, 143 ;Tamari 2006, 101; Sapin 2003, 15; Mitsukoshi Ltd. 2005, 16). What is worth noting is that in the proclamation, Mitsukoshi first adopted the term depātoento sutoa, or a paronym of the English term, department store, written in Katakana syllabary . Since language is the carrier of ideas, an evolving course of a society often pulses with ideas that come with adaptations of new words that had not existed in the society. The adoption of the Western term, depātoento sutoa, signifies Mitsukoshi’s embracement of the western conduct of operations and thus the modern civilization. With the completion of the main building of Nihonbashi main store, which featured a renaissance-style architecture with the first escalators and elevators in Japan, and lions guarded the main entrance modelled on the lions of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square London in 1914, Mitsukoshi was eventually in line with its Western counterparts ( Moeran 1998, 155-156).
Overall, Mitsukoshi department store can be viewed as a product of Meiji Restoration to purvey western sociocultural values. It was a commercial institution inscribed with the state motto “civilization and enlightenment” and actively engaged in the symbolic production of cultured life in the early 20th century .
3. Mitsukoshi Department Store: a Taste Cultivator for the New Urban Middle Class, Yamanotezoku
“Taste, the propensity and capacity to appropriate ( materially or symbolically) a given class of classified, classifying objects or practices, is the generative formula of lifestyle, a unitary set of distinctive preferences which express the same expressive intention in the specific logic of earth of the symbolic sub-spaces…” – Pierre Bourdieu 1984
The New Clientele of Mitsukoshi Department Store: Yamanotezoku
With the dissolution of feudal system and the waning of the “old cultural elites”, such as court nobles and the samurai, at the turn of the 20th century, the burgeoning urban middle class burst onto the scene. The process of industrialization and urbanization, as well as the vitality of the new middle class enriched and diversified the cultural landscape within cities. Mitsukoshi’s transformation from gofukuten to the modern department store was undertaken in the midst of the dramatic socio-cultural change back to that time. A privileged few was gradually replaced by the burgeoning urban middle class. As it is indicated in a research by Minami Hiroshi, between 1907 and 1923, the percentage of middle class household significantly increased from three percent to twelve percent  (Oh 2014, 354). With high-quality kimono, which as a symbol of wealth, as the major product, feudal lords, merchant capitalists, and aristocracy constituted the core clientele of Mitsukoshi gofukuten. One the other hand, situated in a different sociocultural context, Mitsukoshi department store expanded its assortment of merchandise to bags, shoes, umbrellas, cosmetics, stationery, artworks, and a wide variety of imported goods ( Moeran 1998, 155; Oh 2014, 353; Mitsukoshi Ltd. 2005, 16-17). Accordingly, the core clientele shifted to the modern middle class dwelling in the urban area, who were known as Yamanotezoku, or Yamanote people.
Yamanote people was first referred to as the burgeoning urban middle class inhabiting in the Yamanote district  which was connected to the Tokyo downtown by the Yamanote line, a commuter rail line starting operation from the late 19th century ( Moeran 1998, 152). Later, the term, Yamanotezoku, was widely used to refer to the modern middle class living in Tokyo as well as other cities ( Oh 2014, 354). The new urban middle class was comprised of professors, civil servants, bankers, doctors, military officers, social elites working in large trading corporations, and other white-collar workers, who generally supported the Westernizing craze promoted by the state ( Oh 2014, 353; Moeran 1998, 151).
Taste: The Conspicuous Marker of Social Position
In the light of the dominant discourse of “fine art”, the autonomy of art is highly valued. Accordingly, one’s aesthetic preferences and taste are supposed to be autonomous as well ( Oh 2014, 355; Oh 2012, 345). However, as Pierre Bourdieu (1993) suggests, the production of a legitimate cultural discourse is a symbolic production(35-37). Thus, taste is never innate but concerns “the capacity to discern”, or in Pierre Bourdieu (1984) words, “the capacity to see (voir) is a function of the knowledge (savoir)” ( 2).
As the rising cultural elites, Yamanote people were willing and eager to embrace novel products and ideas. However, many of them had never socialized in the cultural setting still limited to the purview of the privileged few, and thus were lack of the taste and “cultural competence to indulge their craving for high culture”, as Younjung Oh (2014) elaborates it (351). In a land that vigorously propagated the idea of cultured life, failure to demonstrate and command proper taste and cultural literacy to socialize would possibly lead to the exclusion from the inner circle of cultural nobility. The anxiety of the exclusion is exemplified in Tōkyōgaku (A Study of Tokyo) by Ishikawa Tengai published in 1909, which functioned as a guide to educate the new Tokyoites the importance of commanding proper taste in social settings (Oh 2014, 354). Eventually, “individual taste and the cultivation of culture became vital to the negotiation of one’s social position in this fluid moment of modern Japan”, as Younjung Oh (2014) puts it (354).
Mitsukoshi Department Store: a Taste Cultivator
During the liminal stage between the waning of the “old cultural elites” and the rising of the new social elites who aspired to legitimate their social positions through demonstrating refined taste, the “crack” offered an ideal space for Mitsukoshi department stores to come into play. Mitsukoshi was a prominent cultivator and creator of the taste and the lifestyle catered to yamanotezoku, which termed as Mitsukoshi shumi, or Mitsukoshi taste. For instance, in an article published to announce its establishment of art section in 1907, Mitsukoshi stated, ” If there were no art in the world, it would be desolate..if we could not see fine works of art, it would be impossible for us to have shumi…As a gofukuten which deals with designs suggesting new taste, Mitsukoshi cannot neglect fine art and has decided to establish an art section” (Oh 2014, 351). In another marketing campaign to celebrate the grand opening of Imperial Theatre in 1913, Mitsukoshi meticulously adopted the famous slogan “Today the imperial theater, tomorrow Mitsukoshi” to bundle itself with the first Western-style theater in Japan and to rebound to its own cultural prominence.
For Mitsukoshi, constructing the taste and lifestyle which could saturate the fabric of the everyday life of yamanotezoku was a brilliant marketing strategy to “equate shopping with aesthetic sophistication”, as Louise Young(1999) phrases it (66). Furthermore, it was a means to accumulate its cultural capitals, and to consolidate its cultural and aesthetic authority (Oh 2012, 13). Positioning itself as the test setter was a particularly smart strategy, since taste was exactly the major matters of concern for the burgeoning urban middle class. For the urban middle class, shopping in the space surrounded with the aura of the high culture gave them the illusion and perception that they were moving toward the circle of cultural nobility.
Mitsukoshi House Magazine: the Key Interface to Disseminate Mitsukoshi Taste
Mitsukoshi also pioneers in publishing the first department store house magazine in Japan. In 1899, it published its first house magazine, Hanagoromo, whose content was closely aligned with Mitsukoshi’s strategy to become a taste setter for the burgeoning urban middle class. Therefore, rather than merely focusing on the promotion of the commodities, aesthetic ways of life, fashion trends, academic articles and serialized novels by popular authors were also included (Sapin 2003, 81; Oh 2012, 18). Going through several name changes, its house magazine Mitsukoshi reached the circulation of over 50,000 issues in 1911. Moreover, nearly 230 people got involved in the publication of the house magazines, which manifests that Mitsukoshi took it seriously and thus poured energies into it.
Mitsukoshi’s house magazine can be considered as the epitome and the messenger of its brand image and Mitsukoshi taste (Yamamoto 2011, 325). This is the underlying reason why it was also the media that Mitsukoshi chose to make the announcement of its launch of the art section, as it is discussed above. It is the key interface that Mitsukoshi utilized to speak to the public, to disseminate Mitsukoshi taste and to project the image that Mitsukoshi was an authority in cultural production. As Tomoko Tamari (2006) summarizes, ” For the upper and middle class they were a material catalog and source of cultural information. For the new middle class, they could be a guide-book for new lifestyles…For people in the provinces they were “the window, through which they could see ideal lifestyles” (111).
4. Mitsukoshi Department Store: an Art Entrepreneur in the Land that Was New to the Idea of “Fine Art”and Thriving with the New Middle Class
Fine Art: an Imported Idea
Mitsukoshi epitomized many aspects of modern art institutions. It played a crucial role in the production, exhibition, circulation and consumption of art in the 20th-century Japan, a land that pulsed with the vitality of booming consumer culture, and that was new to the concept of ” fine art” (Oh 2012, 1).
Considering how Japonisme swept Europe and influenced the art scene in Europe from the late 19th century, and how Japanese arts provided a new “pictorial language” and “widen[ed] the culture horizons” for the Impressionist as well as many artists across the Western societies, it may be surprising to learn that the concept of “fine art” actually did not exist in Japan before early 1870s (Edwards & Wood 2012, 56, 65). Japan has a long history of encountering foreign cultures, while being shaped by such external influences. As Sidney Lewis Gulick (1903), a prominent American missionary, described how the Japanese society evolved and is enriched: “It is true that the character of a nation is mainly the outcome of its history itself, for the most part dependent on the environment or the opportunities for progress presented in the course of the time and of the ability of the the race to profit by these in the course of foreign encounterments.” Such trajectory can also be found in the development of the discourse surrounding fine art in Japan. bijutsu,which literally means “beautiful technique”, was the Japanese term for fine art (Coaldrake 2013, 177). It was first introduced by the Meiji government in 1872 to prepare for the attendance to the Vienna World’s Fair (Oh 2012, 3). The fair was deemed as a vital international event for the country which adopted a national isolation policy for more than 200 years to rejoin the international community.
The coinage of the term, bijutsu, which was translated from the German word “kunstgewerbe”, defines “what fine art is”, yet also confines “what fine art could be”. In this regard, bijutsu, as a Western thing, imported by the Meiji government to manipulate the discourse revolving “fine art” can be viewed as historically constructed structure to showcase the “civilization and enlightenment “, the mottos characterizing the Meiji Restoration. Furthermore, the import of the concept, “fine art”, as a pre-packaged notion, as well as the establishment of Tokyo School of Fine Art in 1889 and Imperial Museum in 1890 manifest the transplantation of the Western idea of arts to Japan (Oh 2012, 9).
In the land that was new to the idea of fine art, and thus unconsciously ignored the boundary between “autonomous fine art” and “art for utility”, ironically, department stores turned to be the alternative venue for the creation, exhibition, circulation and consumption of art. As Younjung Oh (2012) indicates, ” In Japan, the department stores amply demonstrate the contradictions and paradoxes of the modern paradigm within which fine art was created.” (10) Mitsukoshi was the commercial institution that vigorously engaged in establishing its reputation as a cultural institution (Oh 2012, 13). For instance, in 1904, Mitsukoshi held the first art exhibition featuring with Ogata Kōrin’s paintings to promote the “ Genroku boom”, which was a core fabric of the Mitsukoshi taste (Oh 2012, 19). In 1907, Mitsukoshi set up art section to display and sell art works of contemporary leading artists. In a kimono advertising campaign in 1907, Mitsukoshi transformed Okada Saburōsuke’s Western style oil painting “Portrait of a Lady” to a chromolithographic outdoor billboard (Thornton 1989, 7).
In 1910, the company hired Sugiura Hisui as the chief designer. In many ways, Mitsukoshi was a bold art entrepreneur in the early 20th century. In the following, this paper will dive deeper two innovative artistic practices, art-directed commercial designs and the establishment of new art section, adopted by Mitsukoshi to elaborate its status as an art entrepreneur.
Art-directed Commercial Designs
In 1910, Mitsukoshi hired Sugiura Hisui to be the chief designer of its newly created zuanbu, or design department dedicated to graphic design, which marks ” the beginning of art-directed poster design by artists who saw the potential of the medium in the sense pioneered by Jules Cheret, Edward Penfield, Alphonse Mucha, and others”, as Fraser et al (1996) put it (49).
Actually, before the establishment of design department, Mitsukoshi had employed nihonga painters to design bijutsu senshoku, or art textile, since it opened a design studio in 1895 ( Sapin 2004, 318). This underscores that, as a commercial institution, Mitsukoshi had been long recognized that incorporating artists in merchandising commodities not only enhanced the monetary values of goods but also imparted immaterial cultural values to the goods (Sapin 2003, 8). In other words, the practice meticulously elevated commercial objects into symbolic objects that embodied symbolic capitals signifying individual’s social position. The practice was later extended to other objects in Mitsukoshi to manipulate and consolidate the discourse about its status as a cultural authority.
Before Sugiura Hisui joined Mitsukoshi as an adviser in 1908, graphic designs were ” designs without designers”, as Fraser et al (1996) phrases it (10). They were largely left to the hand of anonymous individuals (Fraser, Heller & Chwast 1996, 10). With the advent of printing technology, such as lithography and chromolithography burst onto the commercial art scene. Accordingly, commercial cultures were revolutionized and artists were provided with new ways to produce and disseminate their works to the public masses. Historically, Japan was a land lack of clear distinction between fine arts and arts for utility. Therefore, when the concepts of Bauhaus, which claimed that art could be beautiful and useful at the same time and thus engaging commercial art practice would not compromise aesthetics and creativity, arrived in Japan, many Japanese artists quickly joined the movement ( Thornton 1989, 10).
Design competition was another key method that Mitsukoshi adopted to discover new artists with great potential, to set the trend, and to produce commercial art infused with the aura of high art. For instance, in order to promote the Genroku art, which was a core fabric of the Mitsukoshi taste in the beginning of 20th century, Mitsukoshi launch a design competitions to create the trend in 1905 (Sapin 2003, 92). Bijin-ka poster, or beautiful person poster was a genre that Mitsukoshi led the way in poster design. Therefore, in 1911, Mitsukoshi launched a beautiful person poster contest. Goyo Hashiguchi, a rising graphic designer and an expert in ukiyo-e , won the first prize with special money award worth 1,000 yen. The prize-winning work features a serene and elegant woman dressed in kimono.With a 35-separate-run chromolithography process, it was utilized as the advertisement for autumn sale in the same year ( Thornton 1989, 7; ) .
The Establishment of New Art Section
In addition, in 1907, in response to establishment of Monbushō Bijutsu Tenrankai, or Ministry of Education Art Exhibition (abbreviated as Bunten thereafter), Mitsukoshi set up shin bijutsu bu, or new art section to display and sell art works of contemporary leading artist (Oh 2012,1; Oh 2014, 356). Mitsukoshi became the primary venue for the works of Bunten-winning artists to be widely appreciated and consumed by the public masses. Burgeoning urban middle class was the core clientele for Mitsukoshi’s new art section. They needed artworks to decorate their houses. In addition, in the era when taste is the marker of social status, they were eager to legitimate their social position through tasteful consumption of art (Oh 2014, 351& 354).
Nonetheless, the urban middle class was lack of cultural literacy and personal connection to purchase artworks. Hence, Mitsukoshi, a commercial institution with great ambition to be the “key agent for the cultural production of the new middle class in Japan”, as Louise Young puts it, turned itself into an prominent art dealer for the new middle class. As it is revealed in an article published in Mitsukoshi magazine to market its new art section, ” If you come to the Mitsukoshi art section, you can have a ready-made work to hang in your house instantly. Mitsukoshi is cheaper, faster and easier”, its new art section could be considered as an art market tailored to cater to urban the middle class.
Japan has had a long history of encountering foreign cultures, while being shaped by such external influences. Nonetheless, in Japan, with regard to the trans-cultural process, new elements of knowledge, ideas, or concepts have always served as inspiration and have assimilated into the previous value systems. Iikoto-tori, which literally means cherry-picking, is the Japanese way of adopting foreign elements. Such trajectory can be found in the development of Japanese department stores as well. They are also the product created from the fabric of Japanese cultures.
Unlike its Western counterparts, Japanese department stores are not only “the cathedral of modern commerce” but a vital site for the symbolic production of cultured life. Mitsukoshi is widely considered as the first modern department store in Japan. It epitomizes many aspects of modern art institutions by actively engaging in the production, exhibition, circulation and consumption of aesthetic taste and art. It is a taste cultivator for the burgeoning urban middle class, Yamanotezoku, who were aspired to legitimate their social positions through demonstrating refined taste. Its house magazine was the key interface to Disseminate Mitsukoshi Taste. Moreover, in many aspects, Mitsukoshi was a bold art entrepreneur. By adopting art-directed commercial designs and establishing new art section that catered to the new middle class, it further consolidated its status a cultural authority who was able to manipulate the discourse surrounding the symbolic production of culture.
 Edo is the old name of present day Tokyo. In Edo period (1603 AD to 1868 AD), Japan experienced unprecedented economic growing and urbanization. It was also a golden age for leisure activities, such as theater.
 It is one of the first department stores in the United States.
 Before the adoption of the term,depātoento sutoa, hyakkaten, which literally means ” hundred goods stores” was widely used to refer to stores like Mitsukoshi.
 Katakana is one of the three constituents of the Japanese writing system designed to loaned words of foreign origins.
 According to the same research, the percentage of middle class household was higher in urban area, where department stores were.
 Yamanote district is also known as the “high city” in Tokyo, mainly populated by intellectuals. One the other hand, the rest of the district in Tokyo was known as ” low city”, or shitamachi, the older district of Tokyo where the traditional architectures remain and Edokko, or the children of Edo, live.
 From 1903 to 1907, it was titled as Jikō. In 1980, the title was changed to Mitsukoshi Times. In 1911, the title was changed again. Mitsukoshi became the new title.
 According to Kimi Coaldrake (2013), ” Before the invention of bijutsu, art was referred to generically as gigei” in Japan (179).
 According to Julia Elizabeth Sapin (2003), textiles were not only the core products of Mitsukoshi gofukuten, the precursor of Mitsukoshi department store, but also the one of Japan’s primary exports, counted for more than 50% of its exports before WWI (72). Considering the commercial interest, there was great impetus to promote the product visibility through refined designs.
 The first lithograph company was established in Tokyo in 1872.
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