Yoko Kawashima

Fashion Market Writer
01 October 2007
Yoko Kawashima is a fashion market researcher at Itochu Fashion Systems and the author of fifteen books about Japanese firms.
 Yoko Kawashima is a fashion market researcher at Itochu Fashion Systems and the author of fifteen books about Japanese companies, including department store Isetan, cosmetic king Shiseido, and select shop Beams. Her latest work tackles the history and influence of Japan’s iconic fashion shopping buildings. We sat down with Ms. Kawashima to discuss the importance of fashion buildings in the development of Japanese culture, their current state, and the general direction of the fashion market.

What did you originally study in school?

I was in the Business Department of Waseda University (one of Japan’s most prestigious private universities.), but I studied accounting. It was really boring.

I liked fashion as a kid so I took night classes at Bunka Fukuso Gakuin during my junior and senior years. After graduation, I started working at Itochu Fashion Systems and have not changed jobs since.

When did trend spotting or consumer market research really take off in Japan? People like Atsushi Miura (author of Karyu Shakai) have gotten to be pretty big these days.

Trend-spotters like Miura really started blooming in the 1980s. Since then it’s mostly been Itochu Fashion Systems (and the IFS magazine Marketing Eye). The PARCO magazine Across used to be amazing. It was a marketing magazine, and there’s nothing much like it today. We read it like a textbook. It only exists online now.

So you recently wrote a book about Tokyo fashion buildings but you’ve really used the buildings as a way to talk about the development of the whole fashion market. Why did you decide to write a book about fashion buildings now in 2007?

There were two reasons. First, I had been doing fashion research for a while and eventually wanted to write a history of the special relation between city, stores, and people in Tokyo.

Second, Tokyo Midtown and Shinmaru Building (Shin-Marunouchi Building) opened this year. And now Marronnier Gate is open in Ginza. And there are more in the works. These large-scale construction projects keep being rolled out, and they all have fashion, restaurants, bars, and beauty treatments (estée). I thought that fashion buildings were the prototype for these new complexes. And I wanted to make the case against these new big facilities.

What was the very first fashion building in Japan?

The first was PARCO in Ikebukuro, but the first to really develop the area around it was the PARCO in Shibuya.

If you look at PARCO and Seibu’s “Saison Group” now, it’s hard to understand their historical importance. Can you explain a bit about their influence for those who couldn’t see it firsthand?

From the ‘70s and ‘80s, Seibu was much hipper than even Isetan today. Not just as a department store. The Saison Group operated the Seibu Museum and the brand Mujirushi Ryohin (MUJI), which had a whole new way of thinking about products. And they created the movie theatre Wave. They weren’t just a department store, but a company that provided all aspects of culture. At Yurakucho Seibu, the motto was “We don’t sell products, we sell information.”

The Seibu Theatre featured plays by avant-garde directors like Shuji Terayama. Did it continue to present experimental drama for a long time?

Yes, Seibu continued on this kind of movement until the Bubble burst, around ’92 or ’93.

PARCO and the Saison Group were responsible for introducing a lot of foreign culture and Japanese experimental creators to the public. Were other groups performing the same role?

did a similar thing in taking people from Harajuku who were working in small shops, giving them little shops within Laforet’s complex and nurturing them. Laforet is Mori Building Group though, and they’re a bit different than the Saison Group. As a big group, Seibu was the most impressive.

Did other companies like Tokyu and Marui look at PARCO and decide to do something similar?

Tokyu had the plan for Bunkamura and to make that whole road to Shibuya 109 be filled with Tokyu Group buildings. They built ONE-OH-NINE. Then 109-30. But it didn’t go too well, did it?
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