Over the past decade, and specifically after the successful bid of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games was announced back in 2013, Tokyo suddenly came to the realization that it needs to boost its art and culture assets to make the city more international while also answering the needs of its growing educated art population. As a result, today we have designated governmental organizations supporting young talents to promote Japanese art, street art projects and art festivals across the city, and every new shopping complex has its own art display (think Ginza Six and Magnet by Shibuya 109, to name just a few).
But one place in central Tokyo looks at those sudden trends slightly puzzled, but more so proud, as it has been doing this for over 100 years, based on the principle that art is a natural attribute to our lives. The place is Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store, Japan’s first and most iconic department store which has since 1907 displayed arts of all kinds to the public at its galleries — mostly for free.
Making art naturally accessible
As if foreseeing the future, the historical store — whose roots go back to 17th century Edo Period Japan — launched its art gallery just three years after the official declaration of Mitsukoshi Nihombashi Main Store as Japan’s first department store in 1904, serving not only as a luxury shopping emporium but also as a center of Japanese cultural promotion. This involved the establishment of its Fine Arts Floor (currently the 6th floor of the Main Building), which now includes expansive art galleries, a historic theater, a refined tea ceremony goods store, a kogei crafts exhibition space and even a frame gallery, where visitors can have a favorite painting reframed under the guidance of professional staff.
Mitsukoshi Nihombashi Main Store’s Art Gallery organizes an average of 200 rotating free exhibitions per year.
The idea behind the creation of this floor is simple: art is not a luxury but a natural part of our daily life and anyone should have equal access to it.
Today, Mitsukoshi Nihombashi Main Store’s Art Gallery organizes an average of 200 rotating free exhibitions per year, each lasting for about a week and focusing on works of renowned Living National Treasures to modern artists.
The gallery is also a welcoming place for regular art talks and workshops by the artists themselves. Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store was also the first department store to display price tags on all its products (before that the custom in Edo era Japan used to be based on bargaining)