Ginza's oldest department store holding its goodbye party

December 11, 2012

By LOUIS TEMPLADO/ AJW Staff Writer

Tokyo's posh Ginza district is about to lose a bit of history. Come this spring, the shopping area will bid goodbye to the Matsuzakaya department store, which has been a venerable icon since it opened on the main boulevard in 1924.

Ever fashionable, the emporium is going out in style, by throwing an 88th and final birthday party for itself, holding an exhibition of vintage photos and advertising posters--some from the prewar years but most from the 1950s--and offering a chance at department store cosplay. Until Dec. 11, female visitors can dress up as the department store's once-famed lift operators, in several period uniforms recreated for the event. Backdrops include an elevator and a vintage magazine cover, and the photo print will be free.

In the store's heyday, female staff such as the "elevator girls" were the face of Japan's department stores, which themselves symbolized the country's economic wealth. Now they’ve practically disappeared, as operators look for ways to cut costs and adapt to years of dwindling profits.

The Ginza Matsuzakaya store has always been a modernizer: When it opened in 1924, just a year after the Great Kanto Earthquake that destroyed much of Tokyo, it was the first department store to allow customers in wearing shoes. In 1951, the prewar structure was torn down and replaced with the boxy building that stands today. Photographs on exhibit show that it once boasted an animal menagerie on the rooftop, complete with an elephant on sale for 1.2 million yen ($14,500).

In 2010, the store made waves when it handed a sizable portion of its floor space to Forever 21, the inexpensive fashion brand from Los Angeles. Critics claimed the move tarnished the Ginza sheen and opened the district's floodgates to other global "fast fashion" retailers such as H&M, Zara and Gap. It also let out an upper floor to an electrical appliances shop targeting Chinese tourists who visit the area in busloads.

The store's finale will be in early 2013. The new building that will stand in its place is expected to open in 2016. Whether it will be a new Matsuzakaya department store or not remains to be seen.

By LOUIS TEMPLADO/ AJW Staff Writer
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Visitors and tourists can pose in department store uniforms at the closing exhibition for the Ginza Matsuzakaya department store. (Louis Templado)

Visitors and tourists can pose in department store uniforms at the closing exhibition for the Ginza Matsuzakaya department store. (Louis Templado)

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  • Visitors and tourists can pose in department store uniforms at the closing exhibition for the Ginza Matsuzakaya department store. (Louis Templado)

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