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Shirokiya

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A sign for the sole remaining Shirokiya location, in Honolulu's Ala Moana Shopping Center.

Shirokiya is a Japanese department store company which traces its origins back to 1662. Though one of the oldest Japanese department store companies still extant, today it no longer operates any locations in Japan - a Shirokiya department store in Honolulu, Hawaii is the only one remaining under that name.

Shirokiya was originally established as a lumber and textiles shop in Kyoto, sometime around 1654; its founder, Ômura Hikotarô, was around 17 or 18 years old at that time, and had moved to Kyoto from Ômi province, where he grew up.

Despite this earlier origin, the company's history is generally traced to 1662, when Shirokiya Hikotarô, as he had already come to be known, opened a draper's shop (textile store / dry-goods and sundries shop) on Nihonbashi-dôri, in the center of the most major commercial district of Edo. Hikotarô died in 1689, passing on the company to a son, and the company continued to survive, and expand. Like Mitsukoshi (founded 1673) and certain other major Edo stores, Shirokiya appears in numerous ukiyo-e woodblock prints, easily recognizable by the depiction of the Shirokiya logo on noren (curtains) hanging outside the shop.

The original store, located on a major avenue just south of the Nihonbashi bridge, eventually developed into a modern department store, opening a modern-style storefront on a corner property in 1901. This building was renovated around 1910, but was ultimately lost in the 1923 Great Kantô Earthquake. Shirokiya rebuilt, and spawned a subsidiary called Tokyo Telecommunications Research Institute, or Tôtsûken kaisha (東通研会社), which produced a wide variety of electronics, including the first electric rice cooker, sold under the Shirokiya brand. Tôtsûken eventually split from Shirokiya, and was later renamed SONY.

In 1956, Shirokiya was absorbed by the Tôkyû corporation, which today remains a major presence with its department stores, private railroad lines, and other businesses. Three years later, in 1959, the first Shirokiya department store in Hawaii was opened. The original Nihonbashi Shirokiya location closed in 1999, followed by all other locations in Japan under the Shirokiya name (though Tôkyû department stores remain strong today). The department store opened in 1959 in Honolulu's Ala Moana Shopping Center is the only one remaining today under the Shirokiya name, and in 2012 is celebrating the 350th anniversary of the 1662 founding of the original Nihonbashi store.

A detail from an ukiyo-e woodblock print, depicting the Shirokiya storefront. Note the store's name in kanji 白木屋 and kana 志ろきや, along with the store's logo.

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