Founded more than 340 years ago, close to the Edo Castle, Mitsukoshi department store is very famous in Japan. Recently having merged with the major department store Isetan, the company’s stores are all over Japan as well as in many countries around the world. The most famous department building out of many, perhaps, is the one in Nihonbashi, close to the station named Mitsukoshimae, named after the store.
This time, Active Connector provided an opportunity for international students to make a tour around the historical store, which was also an opportunity for the company to hear the opinions of foreign students of many different origins.
Our hosts were Mr. Hiroya Ishiguro, who works for the company for over 20 years, and Mr. Tatsuya Kitagawa, who joined the company 2 years ago. Mr. Ishiguro started by telling us that the building is from 1935, and showing us the famous lion statues guarding the main gates of the building. The 2 lion stones were made in Italy, and came to Japan in 1940. Mr. Ishiguro told us that if you sit on top of the lion, you will receive great fortune. But only if no one sees you!
We then found out that the lion statue entrance is not the original main entrance of the store. It used to be on a side street, easily unnoticed by the passing customers. Since this side street used to take directly to the Emperor’s house, it was a very busy road. But after the great earthquake (1923), the growing importance of regions such as Ginza took the flow of people to the other road, and so the main entrance changed.
Upon entering the building, we can clearly feel the difference between this shop and other department stores. With the great spacious center and beautiful architecture, I couldn’t help but contemplate the amazing mix of East and West. At this point we thought it would be a department store with shops like any other, but we were wrong!
Walking casually through the corridors, Mr. Ishiguro showed us something on a marble wall: Fossils! That’s right, there are several fossils of ammonites throughout the shop, buried in the walls. As we proceeded the tour, we could see many different types and sizes, and just that was enough to make walking through a department store an adventure.
Other very interesting things were the pipe organ, brought from the USA in 1930, which is still being played. Every end of the year, a professional musician and a huge choir sing in a huge spectacle for the clients, all free! We also found that the ceiling is actually fake! The store continues upwards, but they have decided to keep the original beautiful original appearance. The building also has Theater, the oldest (1928) remaining for WW2, and Art Gallery, making it a full touristic spot for everyone.
But without question, the most remarkable thing is the statue of Magokoro, the Goddess of Sincerity, localized in the very heart of the building. As soon as you enter the building, there is no way you can’t see it. It is, without a doubt, the most beautiful sculpture I have ever seen. The statue was brought from Kyoto in 1960, and it took 10 years to be completed. It was ordered specially for the 50th anniversary of the Mitsukoshi Department Store. At any angle this piece of heaven is just breathtaking, you have to check for yourself!
In the end of our tour, we were taken to a rest room where we could see a beautiful painting. Mr. Ishiguro then explained to us that the painting actually represents Mitsukoshi’s original vision: a place where people of all ages and origins come to have a good time. It was a lot of fun taking a closer look at the drawing, where you can actually see the very interesting and funny way that Mitsukoshi envisions Nihonbashi.
We then took our time to rest and talk to each other. Mr. Ishiguro and Mr. Kitagawa were especially interested in the opinions of the international students, and we had a very interesting and meaningful discussion. Mr. Ishiguro said how he aims for the store to be a place where “customers are not only shopping, but discovering the many interesting things the store can offer to them”. Ms. Xinle Su, from Singapore, reminded that the there is a store from their chain, Isetan, in her country: “I like the way you try to focus on experience, and not products. Especially for younger people like us, it’s very important”. As a final remark, Mr. Kitagawa said “we have to create the next level for Japanese values. It has to be very unique, original. Globalization is fast and changes are happening, but we don’t have to follow them, we have to focus on creating our own values and securing our place in the world”.
After the tour, one of the participants commented: “This experience completely changed the way I see department stores, and I really came to respect Mitsukoshi and all it represents.” Another student said that “The store itself is amazing and a lot of fun, full of surprises!” As an advice for international students, Mr. Kitagawa said “there a lots of opportunities for you. Please use these opportunities, like Active Connector, to talk to us, and let’s create values and opportunities that will help you in Japan and wherever you are”.
We , Active Connector hope that we cancontinue the great work in providing international students these great opportunities which they can discover ‘hidden great value of Japan’!