Mitsukoshi, first department store in Japan

During the process to modernize Japanese society, Japan accepted a lot of things from the West. The department store, where they have a variety of specialized stores in one huge building, is one of them. And Mitsukoshi is the first Japanese department store whose flagship store is located in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. In 2016, this building is designated as an important cultural property to show the history of the department store in Japan.

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The current building itself was built in 1935 as the Renaissance style architecture. And its gorgeous appearance makes visitors feel that the store has whichever luxurious brand they want. But the building is not an only attraction for Mitsubishi Nihonbashi.

At the main entrance there is a pair of bronze statues of lion. They were reproduced from the lion statues at the Trafalgar Square in London and installed in 1914 at the present location.

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Such a statue indicates that they tried to make Mitsukoshi as a gorgeous department store like Harrods in London. However, when you walk up to the central hall on the first floor, you will find how Mitsukoshi, as the first Japanese department store, tried to show their originality. Then let’s see the central hall.

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At the first glance you might not be able to recognize what you are seeing at the center of the department store. Then let’s come closer.

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Now I hope you realized that this is a gigantic and colorful statue of the Japanese goddess. This statue was made by Mr. Gengen Sato, Japanese craftsman in 1960 after spending 10 years to produce it. And it shows the moment when the goddess wrapped with a swirl of clouds has just descended to the flower stem.

According to Mitsukoshi, this statue symbolizes their basic philosophy, which is Magokoro (sincerity). And they have been keeping its philosophy in a long time. While Mitsukoshi branded itself as a department store in 1928, its history back to the 17th century.

In 1673, Mr. Takatoshi Mitsui, started Echigoy-ya as a kimono shop. In those days, other kimono shops, whose targets were rich people, showed higher prices than their real prices to the customers at first preparing for their request of discount and sold only with the unit of a roll (approx. 10.6 meters).

However, Mr. Mitsui showed his sincerity and in order to make his shop approachable for normal people, they showed their real prices from the beginning and sold kimono with the much smaller unit than a roll.

 

When you visit Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi, you can understand not only a history of Japanese department store but also history of commerce in Japan.

Below is the website of Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi.

Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store

Azalea festival at Nezu shrine

Our current home is close the areas called “Yanesen”, a set of three smaller areas, Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi, which is one of the most popular areas in Tokyo for foreign visitors.

And Nezu, one of Yanesen areas, is famous for a shrine, Nezu shrine, as well as a traditional shopping street. In April, Nezu shrine has the Azalea (Tsutsuji in Japanese) festival to celebrate full bloom of Azalea in the shrine.

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The shrine says that it was established 1,900 years ago by Yamatotakeru-no-Mikoto, who is one of the legendary heroes in Japanese myth. But current main buildings were built in the early 18th century and they are well preserved. Japanese people, as they do in other places, make a long line and wait in a long time in order to come to the front of the main building and pray for the gods.

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And in April the shrine has the biggest number of visitors who come to see the Azalea festival. In the shrine there are approximately  3,000 azalea with 100 different kinds in full bloom.

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For Japanese azalea blossom is one of the common flowers we can see everywhere. when we were children, in spring one the way to school we used to pick up azalea blossoms and suck sweet nectar from the flowers. But, even though azalea is so common for Japanese, we didn’t know azalea has so many different kinds.

We thought the color of azalea blossom is pink. However in the festival there are many other colors of azalea such as white, dark red, purple.

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We thought the flower which represents April in Japan should be cherry blossom, but after the festival we cannot ignore azalea blossom as another flower of April. Furthermore like cherry blossom azalea matches Japanese traditional buildings.

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Packed train in rush hour

One of globally-famous but not comfortable things in Tokyo is packed trains in rush hour. When I lived in the US, I drove to the office every day. And before I moved to the US, I had lived in Tokyo but at the apartment very close to our office so I could walk to the office.

However finally we need to ride a train to go to the office every day now !

Below is a photo of Nippori station in rush hour in the morning but on the day with “relatively” less passengers. On the other days, there were much more passengers and I had no chance to take a photo.

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A good point of train network in Tokyo is that trains come to the station every a few minutes without delay. A bad point, especially in rush hour is that there is almost no room for us in any train.

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Japanese people are known to be kind and modest. However, when the train arrives at the station in rush hour, people behave as if there is no human right in this country. We need to push other people in the train to make some space and squeeze ourselves into the train. While we are in train, sometimes we still keep pushing each other and need to be silent like a statue.

And when the train arrives at the destination, people start walking to each office as if there were nothing special inside the train.

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Nevertheless, Japanese people like train. Nippori station is one of stations where many train lines including Japanese bullet train pass by one another.

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And there is a bridge next to the station where we can see each train comes into the station. On weekend many people including families with small kids spend a long time watching trains coming in and going out. I got surprised some (not single) kids memorized many names of trains, while I cannot even distinguish some train…

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Maybe it would be a good strategy to learn more about train in order to somehow enjoy the time in the train in rush hour.

 

Akihabara, changing area of electrical products in Tokyo

Recently Akihabara is one of the most famous areas in Tokyo for foreign visitors. But for me it’s one of the most changing areas in Tokyo as well.

When I firstly moved to Tokyo from my hometown in 2002 in order to enter the university, since Akihabara was close to the university, I sometime visited there. At that time, there were many small shops which sold electrical parts for those who can made their own machines such as transceiver.

However after 15 years such scenery has totally changed. the most of such small shops has disappeared and when it comes to electrical products there are some gigantic stores with multi floors.IMG_0054

Yodobashi-Akiba is one of such gigantic stores with 9 floors. And even though some Japanese manufacturers of home electrical appliance recently sold their business to other Asian companies (Sharp is the latest example), here we can still see Japanese technology which is famous for improving the original concept created by others.

For example, next to Roomba developed by iRobot, American company, Panasonic, Japanese company sell their model of the automatic cleaning machine with lower price and (most possibly) better performance.IMG_0059

Japanese people is famous for hard working and also being always tired. So there is unique development of electrical appliance for relaxation. For example Japanese massage chairs are so good that customers start sleeping on the chairs even inside the store.IMG_0060

On the other hand, in the past decades Akihabara has been expanding as a center of Japanese pop cultures such as animation, manga and video game, which Japan has been trying to export as “Cool Japan”. As for this side of Akihabara culture I’m a little afraid that the industry of such cultures is targeting too much the specific people who like cute but unreal girls and started losing diversity.  IMG_0070 (1)

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Anyway, the change of Akihabara is successful in the sense that I see the more foreign visitors than any other areas in Tokyo. And there are several new fancy hotels which target such visitors. IMG_0067

So over all I think Akihabara is still one of must-visit areas in Tokyo for foreign visitors.

 

Sakura, Japanese soul flower

In this weekend, cherry blossom (Sakura in Japanese) is in full bloom in Tokyo Japan. I believe Sakura has been one of main subjects in Japanese culture, such as literature, song and paintings, so we can call Sakura as “Japanese soul flower”.

When we woke up on Saturday morning and saw outside from the window of our room, we found a very interesting thing.IMG_0033

Surprisingly there is a road led by Sakura trees in full bloom. We went downstairs and tried to find what it is.

On the way, many people are enjoying Sakura and taking pictures.

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After 5 minutes we arrived at the entrance of the Sakura road. It was a cemetery!IMG_0038

This cemetery is called “Yanaka Reien”, the biggest cemetery in this area. And there are a lot of Sakura trees along the road in the cemetery. According to our neighbors, here is the most famous spot to enjoy Sakura in this area. In the past people even sat down on the ground and drank sake to enjoy Sakura (now it’s prohibited, though…)IMG_0040

Sakura in full bloom is beautiful indeed. But at the same time Sakura sometime indicates an image of death for Japanese since the period when Sakura is in full bloom and thus in its full beauty is very short like human’s life and it scatters too soon like human does.

For example, Sai-gyo, a samurai as well as monk and poet who lived in Japan in the 12th century, made a following famous Tanka (Japanese traditional short poem) shortly before he passed away (above is an original Japanese version and below ( ) is my English translation.)

ねがわくは 花のしたにて 春しなん そのきさらぎの もちづきのころ(現代仮名遣い)

(I hope to die under Sakura tree in spring in that April with full moon)

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I hope this post could somehow express the delicate feeling about Sakura in Japanese culture.

Lastly Sakura is matching with a very American thing, McDonald’s, as well. lol.

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Nippori, our new home

One week ago, we moved to Nippori, Tokyo from the US and started our new life. Our new home is a room in the high-rise apartment next to Nippori station(The building in the center of a photo below).IMG_0018

As soon as we moved here, we liked this area, since this area is close to another area called Yanaka which is famous for Japanese traditional culture. In the center of Yanaka there is a long shopping street, Yanaka-Ginza, with a lot of small shops with traditional stuff.FullSizeRender

For example, a photo below is a Japanese candy shop. On the wall of the shop, they put several paintings featuring famous and traditional temples and shrines in Edo (old name of Tokyo).FullSizeRender (2)

In Yanaka-Ginza, the style for drinking is very casual, too. A photo below is a liquor shop. They sell “Sake” by glass at the entrance of the shop. After purchase customers can enjoy sake sitting on outdoor chairs next to the entrance. And the chairs are actually plastic boxes to be used to deliver sake bottles from the shop to customer’s house!FullSizeRender (3)

And more than all others in this season of late March/early April, Japanese people enjoy cherry blossom in bloom. As of today March 26th, they are 30-40% in bloom in Tokyo. However, those who have short temper have already started gathering under cherry trees and drinking with family and friends all day long.IMG_0026

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It’s said that next weekend is the best time to enjoy cherry blossom. We are looking forward to enjoying the flower most loved by Japanese, and also to drinking some sake…