The shops that lined the Ginza offered consumers a vast array of goods, largely imported from the West, that had never before been available in Japan. Previously, shopping had been the privilege of the upper classes, who ordered their goods sight unseen from gentlemen sales clerks. Now, all were welcome to peruse the stores, where merchandise was displayed in large picture windows and glass cases designed to attract customers. The male clerks were replaced with attractive sales girls who were happy to sell the imported clocks, lamps, thermometers, writing equipment and, most importantly, umbrellas to anyone who could afford them.

The first department store was the famous Mitsukoshi Clothing Store, which was founded in 1904. Many of the stores that established themselves in the Ginza district remain there today. Among these are Itoya Bunboguten (stationery and office supplies), Mikimoto Shinjuten (cultured pearls), Kimuraya (bread and cakes) and Daimaruya Gofukuten (dry goods) and Shiseido, an internationally famous manufacturer of Western cosmetics that started in a Ginza pharmacy just after the great fire of 1872.
The shops that lined the Ginza offered consumers a vast array of goods, largely imported from the West, that had never before been available in Japan. Previously, shopping had been the privilege of the upper classes, who ordered their goods sight unseen from gentlemen sales clerks. Now, all were welcome to peruse the stores, where merchandise was displayed in large picture windows and glass cases designed to attract customers. The male clerks were replaced with attractive sales girls who were happy to sell the imported clocks, lamps, thermometers, writing equipment and, most importantly, umbrellas to anyone who could afford them.

The first department store was the famous Mitsukoshi Clothing Store, which was founded in 1904. Many of the stores that established themselves in the Ginza district remain there today. Among these are Itoya Bunboguten (stationery and office supplies), Mikimoto Shinjuten (cultured pearls), Kimuraya (bread and cakes) and Daimaruya Gofukuten (dry goods) and Shiseido, an internationally famous manufacturer of Western cosmetics that started in a Ginza pharmacy just after the great fire of 1872.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Daimaru Department Store and telegraph wires.

Kobayashi Kiyochika (1874-1915)
Edo-Tokyo Museum

Woodblock print
912105-01
© Edo-Tokyo Museum


Umbrellas became the rage early in the Meiji period. They had previously been imported by an Englishman in 1858, but were poorly received by the Japanese as a result of strong anti-foreign sentiment at the time. The shipment was eventually returned to England unsold. However, after the Restoration in 1868, attitudes changed, and the umbrella became extremely popular. In 1872, 600,000 were imported; by the century’s end, few households were without two or three. Their enthusiasm for umbrellas is reflected by their prominence in Japanese prints of the day.
Umbrellas became the rage early in the Meiji period. They had previously been imported by an Englishman in 1858, but were poorly received by the Japanese as a result of strong anti-foreign sentiment at the time. The shipment was eventually returned to England unsold. However, after the Restoration in 1868, attitudes changed, and the umbrella became extremely popular. In 1872, 600,000 were imported; by the century’s end, few households were without two or three. Their enthusiasm for umbrellas is reflected by their prominence in Japanese prints of the day.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Western Umbrella Factory

Edo-Tokyo Museum
c. 1879
0200029
© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Soldiers returning from the Russo-Japanese war brought with them a taste for eating meat, which eventually spread throughout Japanese society. While meat had been available in Japan since the arrival of westerners, few Japanese were interested in eating it. With the invention of a Japanese style dish, sukiyaki, meateating began to take hold. Beer, an instant success with the Japanese, was imported from England to accompany the beef. The first beer hall in Tokyo opened for business in 1899.
Soldiers returning from the Russo-Japanese war brought with them a taste for eating meat, which eventually spread throughout Japanese society. While meat had been available in Japan since the arrival of westerners, few Japanese were interested in eating it. With the invention of a Japanese style dish, sukiyaki, meateating began to take hold. Beer, an instant success with the Japanese, was imported from England to accompany the beef. The first beer hall in Tokyo opened for business in 1899.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Eating sukiyaki for the first time

Otiai Yoshiiku
Archives of Japanese Cartoon History
c. 1871
Woodblock print
© Archives of Japanese Cartoon History


Ice-cream parlours and coffeehouses soon appeared on the main thoroughfare of Ginza. The Plantain was the first establishment to introduce coffee to the Japanese, and soon others including the popular Lion cafe were serving this novel drink to shoppers and passers by. Western sweets also became popular, and chocolate was a much sought after luxury. Shops such as Fugetsudo, the House of the Wind and the Moon, the most famous confectioners in the city, and the Morinaga Candy Store began specializing in Western-style cookies and cakes in addition to the traditional Japanese sweet, wagashi.
Ice-cream parlours and coffeehouses soon appeared on the main thoroughfare of Ginza. The Plantain was the first establishment to introduce coffee to the Japanese, and soon others including the popular Lion cafe were serving this novel drink to shoppers and passers by. Western sweets also became popular, and chocolate was a much sought after luxury. Shops such as Fugetsudo, the House of the Wind and the Moon, the most famous confectioners in the city, and the Morinaga Candy Store began specializing in Western-style cookies and cakes in addition to the traditional Japanese sweet, wagashi.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Meiji era confections in a glass jar

Boutique Meiji-mura
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

© Boutique Meiji-mura


Biscuits also made their debut during the Meiji period. These evolved during the Russo-Japanese War from the need for quick, mobile meals, when the troops could not stop to cook rice. Biscuits became popular with the general Japanese population when the soldiers returned home after the war.
Biscuits also made their debut during the Meiji period. These evolved during the Russo-Japanese War from the need for quick, mobile meals, when the troops could not stop to cook rice. Biscuits became popular with the general Japanese population when the soldiers returned home after the war.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Describe the history of the incorporation of Western goods in Meiji Japan, giving examples
  • Contrast the purchasing of goods in Tokyo before and after the Meiji Restoration
  • Describe the introduction of Western foods into Meiji Japan, giving examples
  • Contrast the Japanese diet in Tokyo before and after the Meiji Restoration
  • Relate shopping, and availability of commercial goods in late 19th century Japan to shopping and available goods in their own culture

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans