Echigoya was a Japanese fabric store established around 1907 on Middle Road. It was famous for its fine fabrics and garments, and tailoring of Japanese fashionwear.1 Echigoya closed down following the Japanese surrender in 1945 during World War II. It resumed business in 1955, but closed permanently in 1977.

Echigoya Gofukuten, a Japanese store selling textiles and garments, was opened in around 1907 at 23 Middle Road in an area known as Little Japan.2

Little Japan had started with the karayuki-san (Japanese prostitutes). From 1877 to 1920, their services in numerous Japanese brothels on Malay, Malabar and Hylam streets made Little Japan famous as the Japanese red-light district.3 Japanese drapers were indispensable in the area because the karayuki-san usually wore kimono, and this helped Echigoya to flourish in its early years. Besides Echigoya, other drapers that served the prostitutes before War World I included Koyama Shinnosuke’s Shin-Koyama Shoten on Middle Road, Koyama Yoshimatsu’s Koyama Shoten on Malabar Street, Shriono Shozo’s Nihon Shokai on North Bridge Road and Ishii Inosuke’s Maruju Gofukuten. Echigoya was the most successful amongst them.4

Echigoya was established by Chubei Takahashi.5 In 1896, Takahashi and his wife left Japan and started a trading business in Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong. In 1904, Takahashi set up a draper’s shop in Hong Kong’s Japanese red-light district. However, the business failed, which led to his move to Singapore.6

Pre-World War II
From a two-storey shophouse on Middle Road, Echigoya sold kimono and related goods to Japanese prostitutes.7

The store’s business hit a brief snag when the Japanese consulate general in Singapore banned licensed Japanese prostitution in 1920. However, Takahashi overcame the initial difficulties and steered his business towards attracting and serving Caucasian customers.8 One well-known European who raved about Echigoya was Roland Braddell, a municipal commissioner from 1914 to 1919.9 In his book The Lights of Singapore (first published in 1934), Braddell wrote: “Round Middle Road, Hailam Street, and Malay Street, you will find a very gay little Japanese quarter. And speaking of buying things, the most fascinating of our shops to me is the Echigoya in Middle Road, a real Japanese shop, where you can get a proper Japanese kimono tailored to measure, and have your pick of the latest Japanese fashions which change with the seasons as do ours".10

Takahashi became a wealthy man. He built a luxurious mansion in his hometown, Kashiwazaki, and contributed funds for building the town’s city hall.11

In 1916, Takahashi brought Fukuda Kurahachi, a 13-year-old who had just completed primary school, to Singapore to work in Echigoya. After Takahashi’s death in 1933, his wife reorganised Echigoya into a company, with Kurahachi as general manager. She retained 50 percent of the company’s shares, while the rest was owned by Echigoya’s staff, including Kurahachi. Under Kurahachi’s management, Echigoya’s business prospered and the store expanded. In 1937, the store was relocated to a three-storey shophouse at 131 Middle Road, where it remained until 1945. The new Echigoya was one of the first shops in Singapore to have a lift installed.12

Post-World War II and closure

When the Japanese was defeated in World War II in 1945, the British sequestered Echigoya’s assets and the company had to wind up its business.13

An opportunity to revive the business arose in 1954, when Kurahachi was contacted by a Singapore resident with the surname Hu who needed help with importing silk goods, sundry goods and other products from Japan. At the time, the colonial administration in Singapore did not permit the re-entry of any Japanese who had resided in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation. However, with the help of a Briton who worked in the immigration department and was once Echigoya’s loyal customer, a special arrangement was made for Kurahachi’s return to Singapore.14

Kurahachi was among the first Japanese to re-enter Singapore after World War II. There were 20 Japanese in Singapore when Kurahachi returned in late 1954.15

In July 1955, Kurahachi obtained permission from the government to reopen Echigoya in Singapore. With capital subscribed by Lai En Ho, an overseas Chinese of British nationality, and arrangements made by Lim Chong Geok of the Singapore Badminton Association, a sum of $150,000 was raised and the retail store re-established. On 9 November 1955, Echigoya & Co. resumed business at 28 Coleman Street with Kurahachi as the general manager.16 The reopening was reported in the local Chinese newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau.17

Echigoya was the first Japanese company registered in postwar Singapore. In subsequent years, Kurahachi played a key role in bringing back Japanese businesses to Singapore when anti-Japanese feelings were high. His contributions earned him a Fifth Class Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1974, conferred by Emperor Hirohito for his service to the Japanese community in Singapore.18

In 1971, Echigoya shifted to Neil Road, where it continued its business of importing and selling textiles. The store closed permanently in 1977 when Fukuda returned to Japan, ending his 65 years of living and working in Singapore.19


Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman

1. Roland Braddell, The Lights of Singapore (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1982), 87–88. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS])
2. “Yuèhòuwū shāngdiàn zuó yóu rì zǒng lǐng kāimù” “越後屋商店昨由日總領開幕,” Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商, 10 November 1955, 7. (From NewspaperSG); Shimizu Hiroshi and Hirakawa Hitoshi, Japan and Singapore in the World Economy: Japan’s Economic Advance into Singapore, 1870–1965 (New York: Routledge, 1999), 36 (Call no. RSING 337.5205957 SHI); Prewar Japanese Community in Singapore: Picture and Record (Singapore: Japanese Association, 2004), 37. (Call no. RSING 305.895605957 PRE)
3. Prewar Japanese Community in Singapore, 64; James Francis Warren, Ah Ku and Karayuki-San: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870–1940. (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2003), 40–41. (Call no. RSING 306.74095957 WAR)
4. Hiroshi and Hitoshi, Japan and Singapore in the World Economy, 36.
5. Hiroshi and Hitoshi, Japan and Singapore in the World Economy, plate 2.3.
6. Prewar Japanese Community in Singapore, 37. 
7. Hiroshi and Hitoshi, Japan and Singapore in the World Economy, 83.
8. Prewar Japanese Community in Singapore, 37, 44.
9. “Death in London of Sir Roland Braddell,” Straits Times, 17 November 1966, 1; “Social and Personal,” Straits Times, 26 September 1914, 8; “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 26 July 1919. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Braddell, Lights of Singapore, 87–88.
11. Prewar Japanese Community in Singapore, 38–39.
12. Hiroshi and Hitoshi, Japan and Singapore in the World Economy, 37, 167; Prewar Japanese Community in Singapore, 168.
14. Hiroshi and Hitoshi, Japan and Singapore in the World Economy, 168.
15. Hiroshi and Hitoshi, Japan and Singapore in the World Economy, 169.
16. Hiroshi and Hitoshi, Japan and Singapore in the World Economy, 167–68; “Dì 12 yè guǎnggào zhuānlán 2” “第12页 广告 专栏 2,” Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商 , 10 November 1955, 12; “Yuèhòuwū shāngdiàn zuó yóu rì zǒng lǐng kāimù” “越後屋商店昨由日總領開幕,” Nanyang Siang Pau南洋商, 10 November 1955, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “越後屋商店昨由日總領開幕.”
18. Hiroshi and Hitoshi, Japan and Singapore in the World Economy, 168–69; Abby Tan, “Hirohito Award for Fukuda,” New Nation, 3 May 1974, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Prewar Japanese Community in Singapore, 41.

The information in this article is valid as at 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Fabric shops--Singapore
Trade and industry
Business enterprises, Foreign--Singapore--20th century