Underneath the main street of Tokyo’s Nihombashi area and connected to the subway station is an artwork that runs several meters long on one wall.
It illustrates life above the street during Japan’s Tokugawa Shogunate or Edo period — houses, stores, shoppers, merchants with carts and goods balanced on a stick over their shoulders.
Hundreds of years ago until today, this part of Tokyo was always a lively marketplace.
When you take the stairs leading to the street above, you will be facing an imposing 1914 Renaissance-style building: Mitsukoshi’s flagship department store, a designated historical building by the Tokyo government.
Mitsukoshi is the first and oldest department store in Japan, founded in 1673 as a kimono fabric dealer. In 2008, it merged with another Japanese department store, Isetan (no relation to the one in the Philippines), to form Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, Ltd.
Mitsukoshi’s red, vertical banners on the facade of its branches are familiar to and beloved by every Japanese national. Another familiar sight is the pair of lion sculptures — designed in the likeness of London’s Trafalgar Square lions — that guard the entrance of every Mitsukoshi store. If Hachiko’s statue outside Shibuya station is a popular meeting place, so are Mitsukoshi’s lions in Ginza and Nihombashi.
From the country’s Shogun era to the modern-day, Mitsukoshi has expanded throughout Japan, Southeast Asia, China, Italy and the US.
Now, this Japanese retail treasure is opening in Manila at The Seasons Residences, a joint development of Federal Land, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, Ltd. and Nomura Real Estate Development Co., Ltd.
The Seasons is a $400-million (P20 billion) four-tower residential development located at Federal Land’s 10-hectare Grand Central Park in North BGC. It offers spacious one- to three-bedroom units with prices starting at P16 million.
It also brings to Manila the Japanese way of life — everything that we find fascinating about Japan, from its traditional to very modern design, hospitality, conveniences and retail brands.
“As one of Japan’s most prestigious retail operators, Mitsukoshi’s decision to establish its first mall in the Philippines on the podium level of The Seasons Residences will help strengthen the latter’s position as a new landmark destination in the metro,” Federal Land chairman Alfred Ty said in a previous interview.
Mitsukoshi Mall in BGC will be the first in the Philippines and Isetan Mitsukoshi’s 56th outlet in the world.
The mall will have a supermarket and beauty store by Mitsukoshi, and a mix of high-end to mid-range Japanese specialty and local brands, restaurants and cafes.
The Mitsukoshi Nihombashi Main Store, which we visited last month in Tokyo, just finished renovation in 2018. The ground floor —the busiest for its high-end cosmetic and beauty bars — was designed by architect Kengo Kuma, best known for his philosophy of recovering the tradition of Japanese buildings and reinterpreting them for the 21st century.
Kuma, who’s also designing the new Tokyo Stadium for the 2020 Olympics, told Timeout Japan in 2017 before the revamp was completed, “I love renovating old buildings and remember being so impressed by Mitsukoshi as a child…old department stores used to be so flamboyant, they had an aura all of their own. I’d be happy to see it restored to its former glory.”
I thought — standing on the ground floor of the Nihombashi store and looking at how shoppers were navigating the space — that it was a stroke of genius how the architect created a white, light (and lit from within) architectural cutouts that spread like tree branches from columns and onto the ceiling.
Architect Kuma once said, “Transparency is a characteristic of Japanese architecture; I try to use light and natural materials to get a new kind of transparency.”
It appears that this architectural style is traveling from Japan to the Philippines by way of The Seasons Residences and Mitsukoshi Mall.
With overall concept design by the Nikken Sekkei Group and architects from Nomura, Torafu Architects and Asao Tokolo, Mitsukoshi Mall will have an aluminum cladding featuring a hemp or rope pattern. Industrial hemp has long been grown in Japan and part of the culture since ancient times. Hemp fiber was used in clothing and to this day for symbolic objects in Shinto shrines.
Isetan Mitsukoshi Ltd. GM for overseas real estate promotion division Daisuke Kobayashi says the retail space will follow the signature style of Mitsukoshi stores with their “symbolic space” along the main entrance and wide retail spaces and an open shopping environment “to let customers experience real Japanese-style shopping mall.”
Kobayashi first visited the Philippines four years ago when they began talks with Federal Land (he has since come back more than 40 times for the project).
His observation about malls in Metro Manila is that “every mall has the same stores.” He adds that with Mitsukoshi, Filipinos can expect “something new.”
“Mitsukoshi will bring new Japanese specialty shops and a Japanese-style interior environment and promotions that have not been conducted in the Philippines before.”
Opening in 2021, Mitsukoshi Mall will have a merchant selection ranging from Japanese brands to designer labels and the best names in accessible global and local retail.
But perhaps the most exciting section of the mall is the Mitsukoshi Beauty Store. Imagine all the beauty products found in Isetan Shinjuku and Mitsukoshi Ginza department stores in one place in BGC. The store brings to Manila luxury cosmetic brands and high-quality yet affordable Japanese brands, and the Japanese standard of service, “which primarily aims to provide everything possible to make customers happy.”
RIGHT TIME FOR A JOINT VENTURE
Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd.’s decision to open in the Philippines comes at the right time and with the right partner. “We are a company with a history of over 300 years in Japan but a newcomer in the Philippines. We provide retail know-how and Federal Land has local real estate development know-how. Both companies will demonstrate their strengths and continuously grow together. We are working on a new project with very strong and good business relationships.
“GT Capital Holdings (of which Federal Land belongs) has already formed alliances with a number of Japanese companies represented by Toyota, and I felt that they have an attitude of learning Japanese business practices. While Federal Land has a history of about 47 years, the idea of further growth with us is led by the vision of chairman Alfred Ty.”
Kobayashi adds, “Federal Land was in line with our new strategy of not only opening stores but owning the property to continue our business.” (Isetan Mitsukoshi has 20 percent stake in The Seasons Residences, as does Nomura Real Estate.)
Like the Nomura Group, Isetan Mitsukoshi finds the Philippines’ “young population and five-percent economic growth rate” conducive to business growth.
“The liveliness and enthusiasm of the people in Manila somehow show a picture of Japan in the 1980s when the economic growth rate was rapidly increasing,” he says.
What we travel to Japan for — epic shopping tops the list — will soon be in Manila and retail therapy won’t ever be the same again.
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For more information, call The Seasons hotline at 359-6756, email [email protected] or visit the showroom at 7th Ave cor. 34th St., Grand Central Park, North BGC, Taguig City (across Lexus Manila showroom).
Visit the author’s travel blog at www.findingmyway.net. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @iamtanyalara.