What to See and Do at Mitsukoshi, Japan’s Oldest Department Store Chain, Before It Arrives in the Philippines
Since 1824, millions have entered the doors of Harrods Department store in Southwark, London, which began as a draper's outlet. South of the U.K., Galeries LaFayette made its mark in fashionable Paris some 70 years later. Meanwhile, Bergdorf Goodman set the trends on Fifth Avenue in New York in 1901, while Barneys catered to the same market two decades later.
In the east, since the 17th century, the Japanese have clamored over the detailed kimonos produced by Mitsukoshi, the country’s foremost fabric dealer founded in 1673 during Japan's Edo Period. Many of these devout shoppers traveled great distances to have their traditional garments made for special occasions.
The Japanese department store currently has over 30 branches and counting, with a flagship mall in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, where it has been standing since 1935. The very structure that holds the department store is an architectural gem in the midst of a metropolis, an elegant Renaissance-style building reminiscent of the marvels in Europe’s older cities.
The façade tells its intention clearly—it was built as a place of leisure and luxury, as all Mitsukoshi department stores are branded. For the first time in its 300-year history, the Japanese mall will open shop in the Philippines in 2021.
Before Filipinos get a feel of what the Japanese mall has to offer, T&C was given an exclusive look at some of its branches in Tokyo. For this project, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings has partnered with local property developer Federal Land and Japanese real estate developer Nomura Real Estate Development. “We provide retail know-how and [Federal Land] has local real estate know-how,” says Daisuke Kobayashi, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings general manager of real estate development. “We have the idea that both companies will demonstrate their strengths and continuously grow together.”
With department stores already operational in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, the company had set its sights on the Philippines four years ago. A growing economy rate of five percent and the young market were what enticed the company to make an investment in the Philippines. Kobayashi does not delve into details and is coy to name specific brands that the department store will carry, but he does promise that the Filipino shopper can expect something new.
Showing is often better than telling and to paint a better picture, here’s what we saw at Mitsukoshi’s flagship malls in Ginza and Nihonbashi.
The building is surrounded by elements that date back decades, or even centuries.
Upon entering any Mitsukoshi mall, shoppers find its gates guarded by lion statues. The first pair sits by the entrance of the Nihonbashi mall.
The owner of Mitsukoshi had been conducting research in London and developed a fondness for the lion statues at Trafalgar Square. He commissioned the artist behind the statues to create a pair for his building in Japan. They were installed in 1914. In an underground walkway that leads to the mall, one may find a long painting that depicts the street above during the Edo Period. At the center of the mall is an atrium that holds a pipe organ imported from the U.S. in 1930 and an elaborate cedar statue of Magokoro, the Goddess of Sincerity, which has been around since 1960 and was installed to mark the store's 50th anniversary.
A dining hall filled with Japanese delights
The dining floors of Mitsukoshi are some of the more frequented ones by foreign visitors, as they are filled with a local and international selection of specialty goods and treats.
As the Mitsukoshi team has noticed how passionate Filipinos are about their meals, Kobayashi says they’re focusing on building the food and beauty sections in the Philippine branch. The basement floor will hold the food hall and supermarket, which may also cater to residents of the upcoming Seasons Residences accessible through the mall.
A celebration of the new apart from the old
While most of the interiors of the Nihonbashi and Ginza malls feature the original designs from when they were built, the ground floor of the former has seen a major renovation orchestrated architect Kengo Kuma last year. The stark white interiors highlight the wares on display and the geometric design of its ceilings give it that much-needed update.
As for the department store in Bonifacio Global City, Mitsukoshi and Federal Land have commissioned Japanese design firm Nikken Sekkei to take care of the overall design concept, so one may expect the Philippine edition to have Japanese elements as well.
A love for the arts
If you’re not in the mood to shop, the Mitsukoshi mall in Nihonbashi also houses a theater and an art gallery. The gallery carries storied pieces from local artists and regularly hosts art showcases with an average of 200 exhibitions per year.
Bespoke customer service
Apart from the signature Japanese-style of service, omotenashi, the luxury mall prides itself on above and beyond customer service. At the beauty section, trained beauty advisors can help customers find products that suit their needs, while the Ginza branch employs attendants for foreigners and even have a couple of advisors that speak English, Chinese, and Korean. From what we know about the beauty section in the Philippine branch, dedicated consultants will also be around to help customers.
One of the more unique services at Ginza is the complimentary hotel delivery. After shopping, simply drop your bags at the counter and a courier will deliver your haul to your hotel. Hotels include Aman Tokyo, Peninsula Tokyo, Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo, and other luxury accommodations in the city. There is also an overseas delivery service upon request.
A modern way to shop
Mitsukoshi might pride itself on high-touch shopping services, but it certainly isn’t lagging behind in consumer trends. It keeps itself in the game with Mitsukoshi Online Store, Iwataya Mitsukoshi, Marui Imai, and finally, Meeco, an e-commerce website that focuses on cosmetics. Kobayashi believes there’s a future in online shopping but says there are currently no plans yet to bring an e-commerce platform to the Philippines.