The Stories Behind the Stores Part 2: - Trend-Setters 

The second part in this series reveals Japan’s department store’s remarkable knack for trend-setting.

White Day

White Day.png

Did you know that Japan has a Valentine’s Day part two, called ‘White Day?

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.

White Day on March 14th, gives men a chance to give back to the ladies. Invented in 1980 by the National Confectionery Industry Association of Japan, it kicked off with a campaign to ‘Return the Love on White Day’. And as with Valentine’s Day, department stores lead the way in getting the word out.

The buildup to the first ever White Day involved uniformed ‘Candy Girls’ handing out samples in Mitsukoshi Ginza, Tokyu Shibuya and Isetan Shinjuku. And on the day, Mitsukoshi Ginza’s basement was crammed with pop-up stalls from 13 different confectioners.

Nowadays, ladies are also often reciprocated with lavish gifts like jewellery. But with the continued prestige of confectionary gifting, department store basements are still the best places to spot men scrambling for last minute gifts.

The Mitsukoshi Runway

Now, a powerful runway strut. Then, a traditional Japanese dance against a backdrop of marble and gold.

In 1927, Japan’s very first fashion show was staged in Mitsukoshi department store, in Mitsukoshi Hall (now known as Mitsukoshi Theater). 


Since there were no fashion shows at that time, there was also no such thing as fashion models. But that didn’t hold them back; instead they enlisted famous actresses of the time such as Yaeko Mizutani (pictured).

Foregoing the burgeoning trend for Western clothing, new kimono designs were showcased through traditional Japanese dance performances.

Mitsukoshi Theater remains largely unchanged with hand-stained glass and gold decorations adorning its walls and arches, while lavish floral motifs accentuate the balcony seating.

Department stores continue to be at the forefront of high-end fashion in Tokyo. In recent years three department stores in Ginza; Matsuya, Mitsukoshi and Printemps, collaborated to hold Ginza Fashion Week.

The Delivery Automobile

Early twentieth century, department stores were battling to display prestige.

Mitsukoshi won over many by being Japan’s first to use a delivery automobile to transport their wares in 1905. At a time when automobiles of any kind were still incredibly rare, imagine the excitement of getting your shopping delivered in this ultra-modern fashion!

Mitsukoshi’s willingness and flexibility to court new technologies and innovations made them the talk of Tokyo.

Mitsukoshi is one of the oldest department stores in Japan. After starting as a one-man kimono fabric business, the company grew incorporating more products to their repertoire as they went. They became the first incorporated public company known as a department store in 1904.

Part 3 of this series fast-forwards to today and shows how Japan’s store are attempting to engage customers with though online and offline experiences.

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Image Credits:

Keiichiro Yuri collection

Isetan Mitsukoshi

Wikipedia/Yaeko Mizutani