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Globalization, Agency and Art Nouveau: a comparative study on the development of Japanese department stores and on the role they played in the promotion of decorative arts and textile trends (1880-1930).

The end of the nineteenth century brings forth the birth of department stores and the development of large-scale consumer culture in Japan. That Western department stores and their organisational and promotional systems had a major influence on the formation of department stores in Japan, has been confirmed in research. However, a thorough comparison between Western and Japanese department stores in order to retrace these influences has not been conducted yet. Therefore, this research endeavours to clarify the global interactions and influences in the background of the formation of Japan’s department stores, more concretely in their promotion of decorative arts and textile trend during the beginning of the twentieth century. Through taking up Art Nouveau as a case study, the foreign influences on the promotion of the decorative arts and trends in textiles by department stores is clarified. Main questions within this research are as followed: How were decorative arts and textile trends (illustrated by Art Nouveau) integrated and promoted in Japan’s department stores? Which role did the American/European department stores play in this process? France is often seen as the center of trends, was this the case for the development of department stores in Japan? How about the influence of French Art Nouveau on Japanese artists?

This research makes use of a comparative methodology in order to clarify the dynamics of influence in the formation of Japan’s department stores and their promotion of decorative arts and textile trends. Structurally, this research has the following themes: 1. The influence from the West on department stores; 2. Art Nouveau promotion by department stores in Japan and the West; 3. The introduction of Art Nouveau in Japan; France as the center of the movement?

In the first section, Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya are taken on as representatives of Japan’s department stores through case studies. Mitsukoshi’s Takahashi Yoshio (高橋義雄) and Hibi Osuke’s (日比翁助) respective trips to Wanamakers in the USA and Harrods in England make up the starting point for this research. The section clarifies parallels in the stores’ organisational and promotion systems concerning the decorative arts and trends in textiles. In the case of Takashimaya and its promoter Iida Shinshichi (飯田新七) the 4th, a focus on Takashimaya’s participation in World Fairs and overseas export are used as a framework to retrace the Western influences on the store and its promotion techniques.

In the second section, the promotion of Art Nouveau in the Mitsukoshi department store are taken up as a case study. A rhetoric analysis of Mitsukoshi’s promotional magazines 『時好』 and 『みつこしタイムズ』clarifies the specific schemes used for promotion at the store. Further, these schemes are compared with rhetorical schemes used in the magazines Harper’s bazar and La Nouvelle Mode (available at Bunka Gakuen University) in order to retrace possible influence. Another comparison with earlier Japanese magazines 『婦人雑誌』 or 『都の華』 clarifies whether the rhetoric schemes in 『時好』 and 『みつこしタイムズ』 are inherently Japanese or results of foreign influence. This rhetoric analysis is further accompanied by a visual analysis of Art Nouveau’s representation within the promotional magazines, and a graphic analysis of posters and postcards promoting or using Art Nouveau in both Japan and the West.

In the third section, this research endeavors to bring a nuance into the general conception of France as the main center of influence of the Art Nouveau movement (and trends in general) for Japan. First, the usage of the term Art Nouveau in Japanese: its origin, meaning and interpretation; is retraced. Secondly, case studies of Art Nouveau artists and designers who have travelled to Europe and the USA, are conducted in order to retrace sources of influence. Were these sources in France (Paris) or somewhere else? The following artists and designers are taken up as case study: Asai Chu, Takeda Goichi, Natsume Soseki, Fujishima Takeshi and Kamisaka Sekka.

Through these arguments this research endeavours to propose a new, nuanced view on the promotion of the decorative arts and trends in textiles by department stores and the development of Art Nouveau in Japan.

Date:14 Sep 2015  →  29 Jun 2020
Keywords:department stores, taisho Japan, Art Nouveau
Disciplines:Language studies, Literary studies
Project type:PhD project