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The Department Store in Early Twentieth-century Japan: Luxury, Aestheticization and Modern Life

by Tomoko Tamari

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The aim of this paper is to shed light on the innovative luxury marketing strategies of the early Japanese department store, Mitsukoshi, which created a new type of spectacular and sensual consumer space combined with Western style building and interior design. Mitsukoshi was also a new, attractive urban public space in which Japanese women began to enjoy luxury settings, enact new types of personae and learn to enjoy new aesthetic sensibilities and experiences. This paper also considers the contribution Mitsukoshi made in providing new ideas about Western lifestyles in line with Japanese government-led policies, such as the reform of everyday life movements, as well as the store’s own attempts to educate customers into the minutiae of westernized home and interior design. This promoted a new idea of “being modern” and led to the combination of new forms of aesthetic experience with a greater democratization of luxury, which gradually permeated everyday life. Finally, the paper analyzes the Ryukokai, the Mitsukoshi think tank, which brought together a powerful set of cultural specialists and intermediaries to create a distinctive ‘Mitsukoshi taste’ with its associated brand image.

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