Objects of War
From 1940, Mitsukoshi began to clearly reflect the transformation of material culture due to the war. The world of consumption had become increasingly narrow and bare.
Since only the Axis “West” was to be mentioned in a positive light after 1941, German and Vichy French women were praised for wartime stylishness, while listings of their films replaced references to Hollywood. Folk Craft Movement (Mingei undō) wares had been featured by Mitsukoshi for some time, but they were highlighted during this period as representative of a romanticized national identity (on Mingei undō, see Brandt 2007). Meanwhile, although the store had previously celebrated childhood as a distinct space of joy and freedom, children's material culture was redefined in the wartime issues as sober, disciplined, and aligned with the war being waged by adults (Frühstück 2017).
Not surprisingly, the store began to repackage, redesign, and offer new kinds of goods reflecting Japan at war. The first few images in the carousel below feature care packages (imonbukuro) to be sent to soldiers. Mitsukoshi offered ready-made sets as well as further suggestions, claiming special expertise in knowing the “right” combination of what was practical and what was fun, both of which were to be seen as “necessary.” Other items directly connected with war, such as air raid equipment, were also promoted.
Inevitably, given the hunger of the military for any and all materials, the department store's world of objects began to contract to a vanishing point. Mitsukoshi, the former source of anything one could ever want, began to tout self-sufficiency and do-it-yourself in the pages of its journal. Essayists called for the reevaluation of the household as a site of production as well as consumption. By the final years of the war, however, Mitsukoshi could no longer sustain even such tenuous claims to cultural authority, as the store's structures were stripped of metals (such as found in escalators and even shelves) and the retailer could no longer operate with any semblance of normalcy.