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

Noodle restaurant at a cake shop’s backdoor in Nippori Tokyo

In Nippori, area of Tokyo Japan we live, there is a street called Nippori Fabric Street where there are many small fabric shops along the street.

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And around the end of the street there is a small cake shop called Sablon. It looks quite normal as long as we see from the frond side. The word “Feinbackerei” in the signboard indicates that the chef might have had training of cake making in Germany.

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However, when you move to the backside of the shop, your impression has totally changed. It’s not so obvious if we can enter into the shop from this side as well. But several people are waiting and there is a simple signboard saying “dip noodle”! Wait, isn’t it the backdoor of a cake shop?

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It’s a noodle restaurant indeed. After waiting about 30 minutes we can enter into a tiny restaurant with only 4 seats. And they have a single noodle menu, Tsuke-men (dip noodle). Only one chef is working hard for both the cake shop and this noodle restaurant. He called the noodle restaurant “Ura-Sablron”. Ura in Japanese means backside or secret.

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According to an explanation on the wall, when he was young, the chef was a big fan of Taisho-ken in Ikebukuro Tokyo, which is the legendary dip noodle restaurant well known to have created the current style of dip noodle in Japan for the first time. And even after he got training of cake making and started his own cake shop, he couldn’t forget his passion to the dip noodle of Taisho-ken. Finally he decided to start a dip noodle restaurant while keeping his cake shop at the same time.

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By the way, I myself was a fan of dip noodle of Taisho-ken. And the dip noodle here has an authentic great taste. I believe it’s the best dip noodle in this area.

Meanwhile it seems that the chef cannot help serving his original specialty, cake. So with additional price he also serves his original dessert after dip noodle.

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The dessert is also delicious but quite ordinary compared to the special dip noodle. Seeing no guest in the front side as cake shop, we are afraid how long the chef can continue this double work…

Sablon (and Ura-Sablon)

5-12 Higashi-Nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, Japan 116-0014

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.