Shopping might be the most capitalist of all activities.

Little wonder, then, that where we shop reflects capitalism back to us, capturing the zeitgeist of an era or a country: Think Walmart’s ascension as a metaphor for the unbridled consumption of a post-Cold War United States.

Nowhere is this truer than Japan’s department stores — once a staple of travel-guide tropes about elevator girls, white-gloved assistants and incomparable service. Indeed, their history traces capitalism’s trajectory in the country, right from when Echigoya, a predecessor of today’s Mitsukoshi that traces its roots back to 1673, became the first place to sell goods at fixed prices instead of haggling.