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Making place: "Old Japan" at the Japanese department store Shirokiya in Honolulu

In comparison to common department stores all over the world, the Japanese department store Shirokiya in Honolulu, Hawai’i, seems to be more than just a department store. For sure, goods are displayed and sold effectively, accompanied by thoughtful marketing strategies. But aside from this, elderly people stroll around with their arms crossed behind their backs, obviously not intending to buy anything at all. At a closer look, it appears that Shirokiya as a specific place in Honolulu plays an essential role for the elderly Japanese Americans of the city through honouring the heritage of their ancestors. With this in mind, Shirokiya shows that analysing places like this department store leads to unique findings for diaspora research including spatial theory approaches. Therefore, in this paper, I will show how applying spatial theory, with a focus on place(s) instead of space as merely a geographical unit, extends the scope of findings in diaspora research. Drawing from the terminology of Marc Augé, I show how his concepts of places and non-places can help shed light on the important meaning of the department store for these Japanese Americans.


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Contemporary Japan


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