The Japanese department store institution that is Mitsukoshi will reduce its European presence when it closes its Paris branch in September to focus its efforts on the rapidly expanding Chinese market.

The Paris outlet of the high-end store chain opened in 1971 and was Mitsukoshi's first foray into foreign markets since the end of the war. The store was also a landmark for home-grown retailers in general as it was the first time a Japanese department store had set up shop in Europe.

It has suffered from falling sales and operating in the red in recent years, the company said, factors behind the decision to close the store.

"It used to be a very popular shop with Japanese expatriates in France and Japanese tourists, but there are fewer people taking long-haul vacations now and our sales have declined," Masahito Yoshimi, a spokesman for the company in Tokyo, told Relaxnews.

"China, on the other hand, is a very large new market," he said. "We already have five stores there, including one in Shanghai, and will be opening an outlet in Tianjin either late this year or in early 2011.

"We have high hopes for the Chinese market and hope to open more outlets there in the future," he added.

Founded as a door-to-door sales company specialising in kimono as far back as 1673, Mitsukoshi evolved into the first "modern" department store in Japan in 1910. Its first outlet was in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo - where it can still be found today - and the company's success was emulated by chains such as Daimaru, Matsuzakaya, Sogo and Takashimaya.

During the boom business years of the 1970s and '80s, Mitsukoshi opened outlets in Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, Rome, Madrid and London, as well as operating stores in Orlando - which was popular with Japanese visitors to Walt Disney World.

The economic downturn has taken its toll on Mitsukoshi's European business, however, with the last of the three German stores closing down in June 2009 and now the Paris store bringing down the shutters.

The loss of business in Europe is likely to be offset in the Far East, where the company already has seven stores in Taiwan, the Hong Kong outlet is being refurbished and the Tianjin unit is being prepared for its launch.

The new store will be close to an up-market residential district of the city and have a retail floor space of around 17,000 square meters.