In this final edition of the Japan Department Stores journey, some conclusions.

My observations are based specifically on the retailers’ initiatives in leveraging online content experiences to get inbound tourists engaged in their brand and ultimately get them in stores leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. A position all three major players announced last year (read more here).


Alas, I must reveal that while I have unearthed some great content it has been rife with disconnected and siloed sources throughout. A nice Japanese phrase I’d use to describe this is ‘mechakucha’ meaning ‘messy’.

Sourcing and collating content became tedious, and considering the importance laid on luring inbound tourism, there was surprisingly little available in English (or any other language apart from Japanese).

However, there are a few English language online newsletters scattered around with a plethora of information on history, culture, events and trivia — some great content. Unfortunately though, these are often buried somewhere no discerning human being nor search engine robot will easily find them.

Generally, the retailers have a specific Facebook page and Instagram profile for each and every regional, city, flagship and local store. Not an uncommon strategy, Selfridges and others do the same. But again, no cohesive efforts towards inbound tourism that we could find. Social media is ideal for brand storytelling and now with 2.8 billion users worldwide, the potential is enormous.

However, I was surprised to find retailers using influencer marketing such as this by a popular Australian Youtuber promoting a Japanese crafts feature.

Top 5 Roundup

Far beyond our expectations though were the stories behind the stores — and there are many. Here’s my top 5:

1. During the second world war the twin lion statues outside the flagship Mitsukoshi store were acquired by the Japanese military to be melted down for weapons manufacturing, but somehow they were spared.

2. In 1924, the Matsuzakaya store in Ginza became a first to allow street shoes to be worn indoors which was unheard of at that time.

3. Many of the oldest department stores worldwide share humble beginnings as cloth merchants, street sellers and tailors. Japan’s stores began with Kimono, the garment once also symbolized class rebellion.

4. It was a stall inside Isetan department store in 1958 that’s often credited with Japan’s
first attempt to market Valentine’s Day - but with a twist. It’s women who give chocolate
to men...

5. In 1927, Mitsukoshi Theater staged Japan’s very first fashion show. No fashion shows
at that time meant no models. Instead they enlisted famous actresses, and kimono designs were showcased through traditional Japanese dance performances.

The Best of Japan Under One Roof
Finally, as part of this project, we produced a video to illustrate our vision of Japan’s department stores once again becoming retail destinations (see the social media version here).