Photo/Illutration The Seibu department store in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

There was already the familiar sense of year-end euphoria in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district on Dec. 10.

Many Japanese employees have just received their year-end bonuses. Despite nagging inflation, quite a few consumers seem ready to spend some money to reward themselves a little. The hustle and bustle of Ginza reminded me of how things were in my childhood.

I remembered how I was elated when my parents declared we were going to a department store. After a series of bus and train rides, I would be in front of what I had most looked forward to: a glamorous display window beside the main entrance.

Mechanical dolls moved a little clumsily, but I never got tired of seeing what looked like a scene from a picture book.

Department stores were the places to go to find the trendiest products and cultural items, much more so then than now.

During the 1980s, the Seibu department store in Tokyos Ikebukuro district was head and shoulders above the others. It had an art museum, a bookstore and an event hall within the building.

Looking back on the glorious days of the store, writer Akira Nagae notes, “I thought it was like a town” in his book “Sezon Bunka wa Nani wo Yumemita” (What did the Saison culture dream of?)

I recently read a news story saying Sogo & Seibu Co., which operates the Seibu department stores, will be sold to a U.S. investment fund. Many of the Ikebukuro store’s floors will likely be converted to house a volume-sales electrical-appliance store, according to the news article.

This is another episode of how declining consumer spending on goods and the rise of online shopping are threatening the survival of department stores.

A growing number of leading local department stores, including Onuma in the city of Yamagata and Yanagen in Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, have been disappearing.

Change is the way of the world, as it is often said, but there is the inevitable sense of loss.

Mari Ueda has composed a “tanka” poem about the closure of a department store: “The store was closed/ After saying goodbye a hundred times/ On a warm day/ When Camellia Sasanqua flowers dance.”

After a visit to a department store, we would go home holding packages. We would carefully fold the store’s paper bags up and put them into a cupboard box with our memories.

I cannot help recalling that happy experience, which you can never get by simply clicking a “buy” button on an online shopping site.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 11

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.