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Indy Lifestyle Online

Once at the pinnacle of shopping sophistication in Japan, department stores' stock has fallen dramatically in recent years. Consumers are less impressed these days with legions of uniformed women chanting welcomes as they enter these vast emporiums - as well as paying inflated prices for the pleasure.

And with annual sales in the sector declining for a 13th consecutive year to Y6.58 trillion (€60.5 billion) in 2009 - down from a staggering Y9.7 trillion (€89.2 billion) in 1991 - the major operators are making big changes.

The swish Ginza district of Tokyo has traditionally been associated with the biggest names in the department store sector, with huge outlets occupying the best spots on this famous shopping street.

Earlier this year, the Matsuzakaya store took the dramatic step of giving a large slice of its floor space to the Los Angeles-based Forever 21 clothing brand. The aim is to appeal to a wider - and much younger - clientele.

On the other side of town, cut-price fashion brand Uniqlo opened its new flagship store in the Shinjuku store of Takashimaya in April, with the department store delighted at the consequent 30 percent jump in the number of people coming through its doors. Similarly, the Tobu department store in the Ikebukuro district of northern Tokyo now boasts an outlet of the popular Spanish brand Zara.

Back in Ginza, all eyes are on the imminent reopening of the most venerable department store of them all. The Mitsukoshi store stands on one corner of the crossroad that is considered the very heart of the district, where Chuo-dori meets Harumi-dori.

The windows are concealed behind drapes and the doors are firmly locked, but a huge banner above the main entrance announces the reopening date for the store: September 11.

The interior floor space of the 80-year-old store has been increased 1.8 times thanks to the construction of a new 12-storey annex and the enlargement of two underground levels. The renovation work has cost the company Y42 billion (€386.3 million), but that will be considered money well spent if it arrests the industry's slide.

The president of the company, Kunio Ishizuka, told a recent press conference that he hopes to maximize customers' satisfaction and promote a higher quality of lifestyle.

A target of Y63 billion (€579.5 million) in sales has been set for the first year after the store reopens.

JR

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