Shopping at Department Stores in Japan

There are several types of activities that one can get into when traveling to foreign countries. Flying to tropical countries means that one can go to different islands and swim by the beach. On the other hand, traveling to cold and snowy mountains means that one may be able to snow ski, which many people swear by is fun. One can do both of that and so much more when traveling to Japan. Also known as the Land of the Sun, Japan offers a variety of activities that every person would love to experience. If one is an adventurer, then going to the mountains and beaches of Japan would be a treat.

On the other hand, if one would just like to immerse one’s self in the beautiful cities of Japan and experience the culture within an urbanized area, there are still other activities that one can get into such as shopping. Shopping in Japan is unlike any other ordinary activity as there are various shopping districts and department stores in the country that one would definitely go crazy over. Department stores are scattered all over Japan, offering various items and services that would most certainly give a wonderful shopping experience to one.

The Origin of Department Stores in Japan 

Also known as depāto, department stores in Japan usually come in five- to ten-story buildings. A wide range of popular brands and high-quality products are usually being sold in these department stores. Because department stores in Japan look and feel classy, it comes as no surprise that the products being sold there are more on the expensive side. Nonetheless, if one has more than enough money to spend, department stores in Japan can truly provide a different kind of shopping experience altogether.

While department stores in the country are highly modernized, the first ones were founded in the early 1900s. Back then, there were only kimono stores that sold several kinds of luxurious items during the Edo period and Meiji period. Through the years, these stores developed into department stores that grew successful decade after decade. However, due to the economic slowdown in the 1990s, department stores have begun to struggle to operate. In addition, there was also intense competition from supermarkets and mass consumer retailers.

The very first department store in the country that incorporated the “modern-style” was Mitsukoshi, which was established in the year 1904. Its roots go back to the year 1673 when it was only just a kimono store known as Echigoya. On the other hand, another department store known as Matsuzakaya has a longer history, dating back to the year 1611. Just like Mitsukoshi, Matsuzakaya was initially just a kimono store until it became a department store in the year 1910. This store located in Ginza was considered innovative back in the year 1924 when it allowed customers to wear shoes inside, which was not customary at the time.

Another source of department stores in Japan is from railway companies. Several private railway operators built their own department stores that were directly connected to the termini of their lines during the 1920s. This was especially convenient for people who got off the train then shopped after. Examples of these department stores include Seibu and Hankyu.

Concept and Elements of Japanese Department Stores  

Department stores in Japan are divided into different levels. Several food departments are usually situated in the lowest level of the department store, usually in the basement. This level is already an attraction in itself due to the wide range of choices that customers have when they want to dine in. Several food products are on display that just makes the mouth water in anticipation. Sweets, delicacies, and desserts are among the products that the food departments offer.

At the ground level stands a collection of several cosmetics stores. Various local and international brands that look as luxurious as can be seem inviting to the eyes of the shoppers. Looking classy and expensive, these cosmetics departments lure both female and male shoppers who love makeup, with their shiny bottles and good packaging of cosmetic products.

Up next would be the women’s fashion department. This department usually consists of more than a single level due to the plethora of brands and products that the department store has to offer. Here, women can go crazy shopping due to the sheer amount of clothing and accessories that the shops are selling. Just above these floors would be the men’s fashion department, which also occupies a few levels of the department store. The next level above would be occupied by stores that sell interior and lifestyle items, toys, and stationery.

High-end restaurants usually occupy the topmost level of most department stores in Japan. Several restaurants serve various kinds of dishes hailing from different types of cuisine. Food replicas can be seen from the window displays of most restaurants to showcase some of their menu items or their bestsellers. Certain department stores even house roof gardens wherein customers can occupy as beer gardens during the summer season.

One of the key factors that make people want to shop at department stores in Japan despite the high price tags is their customer service. Customers are constantly greeted by the staff of the department store, coupled with bowing. Their impeccable customer service is among the many reasons that customers keep coming back to shop in department stores in Japan. Furthermore, there are also elevator girls in department stores who are tasked to operate the elevators. They add extra service by being knowledgeable to the location of specific stores and restaurants and serve as a guide to guests of the department store.

Another element that highlights the beauty of department stores in Japan is the packaging of their products. The staff makes it a point to put the products bought by customers into beautiful packaging that pleases the eyes. Additional decorations such as ribbons are sometimes also supplemented to make the package look more presentable. Packaging often also bears the name of the department store from which the product was bought. Hence, it shows that the item bought came from an official reputable source.

Most department stores in Japan usually open at 10 in the morning and close at 8 in the evening. Because customers do not really come into restaurants early in the morning, restaurants typically open a bit later, which is around 11 in the morning, but also close later at night. Due to the fact that people are most free during the weekends and holidays, department stores are, of course, open on Saturdays, Sundays, and national or public holidays. Instead, most department stores close one weekday every week or month and on the 1st of January to celebrate the New Year.

The Largest Department Store Chains in Japan: Takashimaya, Sogo, and Mitsukoshi (Ginza, Ebisu, Chiba, etc.)  

By Rs1421 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There are various department store chains that exist and operate in Japan. However, there are the major or primary chains that have stores all over the country. Among the largest department store chain would be Takashimaya Co., Ltd. Also known as Kabushiki-gaisha Takashimaya in Japanese, this company handles various department stores under its name that sells a wide range of products, including apparels, electronics, flatware, and even wedding dresses. Just in the year 2006, Takashimaya was ranked 1197th on the Forbes Global 2000. It is also a participant of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFJ) keiretsu.

The very first Takashimaya store was established in the year 1831 in Kyoto as a sole proprietorship under the name of Shinshichi Iida. It was a store occupying only 3.6 square meters and selling gofuku, which is formal kimono. On the other hand, it was in the year 1969 that Takashimaya established its first shopping center that incorporated American-style. This department store was located to the southwest of Tokyo, near Futako-Tamagawa Station.

Next department store chain on the list would be Sogo Co., Ltd. SOGO department stores are not limited only to Japan as the department store chain has spread throughout the world with some locations in Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and even London. Also known as Kabushiki Kaisha Sogō in Japanese, this company was founded by Ihei Sogo in the year 1830 in Osaka. Originally a kimono store, it is now among the biggest department store chains in Japan. It is currently a subsidiary of Millennium Retailing, which has been renamed as Sogo & Seibu.

Among the most popular department store chains in all of Japan is none other than Mitsukoshi, Ltd., a subsidiary of Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings. Also known as Kabushiki-gaisha Mitsukoshi in Japanese, this department store chain was founded in the year 1673, then known as Echigoya, a kimono store. Originally going door-to-door to sell products, it was decided that a store would be set up wherein a customer can visit and purchase items to be paid in cash. There are only five main stores that are managed by Isetan Mitsukoshi, Ltd., namely, Nihonbashi Main Branch in Chuo, Tokyo; Ebisu Mitsukoshi in Shibuya, Tokyo; Chiba Mitsukoshi in Chuo-ku, Chiba; Ginza Mitsukoshi in Chuo, Tokyo; and Tama Center Mitsukoshi in Tama, Tokyo. Other stores are being managed by other companies.

Best Department Stores in Tokyo and Osaka 

By coolinsights [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Aside from the three huge department store chains that are popular almost anywhere in Japan, there are also department stores that some people consider to be among the best out there. Because Tokyo is the most populated area in the country, it is only natural that there are several great department stores established there. One of the best department store chains in Tokyo would be Isetan. With their home base being in Shinjuku, there are several Isetan department store buildings in the area, catering to different types of customers. Almost anything and everything can be bought in Isetan, including bridal gowns, kimono accessories, children’s toys, and many more. Not only is it popular among the locals but to international crowds as well due to its great customer service and high-quality products.

Another great option would be shopping in Marui. Also a major department store chain in Japan, Marui has an iconic logo that looks like “0101.” The target audience of Marui are shoppers between the age of 20 and 35. People who want a young and hip look tend to gravitate towards the pieces sold inside Marui.

People who have traveled to Tokyo before would probably be aware of or familiar with the name Tokyu. It is among the best department store chains in Tokyo and a must-visit for shopaholics. It carries various brands but is primarily composed of local streetwear brands. People who love local brands would definitely find this department store a haven.

Along with Mitsukoshi, Matsuya is one of the oldest department store chains in the country. Still highly popular both in the local and international crowd, Matsuya is the best place to be for shoppers as it carries a wide variety of luxury brands and products. Their Tokyo flagship store situated in Ginza is probably the best branch to go to.

Last but certainly not the least for the best department store in Tokyo would be Hankyu department store. With four main stores in Japan, Hankyu sells some of the most trendy street fashion clothing for men. They have branches both in Tokyo and Osaka with the latter also carrying female apparels.

Osaka is also home to many shopping districts and department stores. Even though Tokyo is already full of department stores, Osaka is also another great place to look for great department stores, especially if one would be staying within Osaka. The top must-visit department stores in Osaka include Daimaru Shinsaibashi located in Chuo Ward, Hankyu Umeda Honten located in Kita Ward, Osaka Takashimaya located both in Naniwa Ward and Chuo Ward; and Daimaru Umeda located in Kita Ward. There are definitely so much more department store chains in various cities all over the country that one can go to and shop in before calling it a night in a hotel room. Being able to shop in the best department stores in Japan would most certainly be a different kind of experience for shopaholics.