Ginza is one of Tokyo’s most fashionable yet traditional areas and is home to numerous higher end brand shops, department stores and stores established much longer ago than many readers of this piece were born.
Shopping, however, isn’t all there is to Ginza as when you tire of shopping, a sweet or cake break involving either Japanese style sweets or imported confectionary fits the Ginza ticket perfectly. Or, for those in search of more substantial refreshment, just about any type of food from the four corners of the earth can be found in Ginza – depending your budget of course.
Entertainment wise, watching Kabuki at the Kabuki-za (za here meaning theater) is a fun and cultural way to pass an afternoon or evening as is a visit to one of the many art galleries or cinemas; many of which show Japanese films as well as the latest international releases.
Ginza is one of the hubs of Tokyo’s transportation network and is accessed by both subway and Japan Railways. Using the subway, Ginza Station, on the aptly named Ginza Line, the Marunouchi Line and the Hibiya Line is within easy reach of all parts of the immediate Ginza area. On the Ginza outskirts somewhat, the slightly removed from center station called Higashi-Ginza on the Asakusa Line provides access to the eastern Ginza area while Yurakucyo Station and Ginza-itchome Station on the Yurakucho Line as well as Hibiya Station’s link to both the Chiyoda and Mita Lines serves others areas.
By JR, disembarking at JR Yurakucho or Shimbashi Stations provides an overland access route for those willing to walk a little.
Tokyo Station, with the access it affords Marunouchi and the Imperial Palace area, Nihombashi, Tsukiji, Hibiya Park and Shiodome is an ideal jumping off spot for willing walkers as all areas are within a relatively limited area centering on Ginza.
The place and the word Ginza derives from an official organization established in 1612 whose aim was to cast silver into coins for the then ruling Tokugawa Bakufu during the Edo era. (Gin means silver in Japanese). The name stuck in the minds of the people and Ginza became the official area name in 1869.
When largely destroyed in a massive fire that struck the area in 1872, the Tokyo Governor at the time, one Yuri Kimimasa, proposed to reconstruct the town using bricks in order to prevent further fires from taking their toll. Within 5 years, Ginza had largely changed into a 2-story brick building corner of Tokyo and with the bricks came the concept that it was the first Western-style shopping district of Tokyo.
Forty six years later, when the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 hit, Ginza was not spared and many of the brick buildings were lost forever although the area, soon as prosperous as ever, once again became a locale centered on fashion and modernity in the recovering metropolis. Today, the Renga-Ginza-no-Hi, a monument made of the brick of a time now assigned to the history books and located in front of the Hotel Seiyo-Ginza in the 1-chome area, tells the story of Ginza’s turbulent history.
As rebuilding took place, western style stone buildings dominated in the wake of the once numerous brick buildings and of stone there still remain various famous structures – all giving off the everlasting fragrance of elegance Ginza is so well known for.
Popular meeting places for friends or families in the Ginza streets include the area in front of the Sony Building at Sukiyabashi, under the large clock with its hourly dancing dolls on the wall of The Yurakucho Mullion Building, in front of the famed Wako department store, at the entrance or inside Mitsukoshi department store, the Nissan gallery, the San-ai building and the Ginza Core Building on the Ginza 4-chome intersection. Stand and watch others waiting as you do so yourself.
Ginbura – Walking along the Ginza
When you visit Ginza on holidays or at weekends you may be able to experience a Tokyo version of a pedestrian’s paradise. The Ginza Chuo Street from 1-chome to 8-chome is closed to vehicular traffic and opened to pedestrians alone, from 2 pm to 6 pm on Saturdays through the spring and summer and between October and March, from 2 pm to 5 pm. On Sundays, from noon to 6 pm during the fairer months and from noon to 5 pm October to March. Parasols and chairs are provided free of charge along the street for the weary to rest a while.
Sit, or stand and watch and you will see people rushing this way and that, many carrying shopping bags, most wearing the fashions of the day and all out for a good time.
The Kabuki-za is a sole purpose theater and was first established in 1989. This Momoyama Era building is a distinguishing and prominent landmark in Ginza but if you are interested in traditional Japanese culture and theater in particular is well worth venturing inside.
The majority of kabuki stories performed are quite simple in theme in that the just and fair are eventually rewarded and the unjust and dishonest are ultimately punished for their sins. For first timers though, not understanding all the details is far from a problem as the enjoyment to be obtained from the elaborate stage equipment, the uniquely kabuki-esque movement of the actors and the costumes they dance in are all more than worthy of the effort and entrance price.
Indeed, single shows can be enjoyed inexpensively by buying a “Makumi” seat or one-act ticket.
Several famous department stores are located just a short distance from the 4-chome intersection. Wako, with its remarkable clock tower, is known for its original, elegant and stylish products as much as it is famed for the higher end and imported prestigious brands it provides to shoppers. Dealing mainly in women’s clothing, bags, clocks, jewelry and foodstuffs, those who overdo it somewhat and feel in need of refreshment can always try the Wako annex tea room; a most suitable place to recharge the batteries.
Ginza Mitsukoshi is located opposite Wako and plays host to brand shops such as Tiffany & Co. while the lion statue at the entrance is always a popular meeting spot with the Japanese phrase, “Today I go to Teigeki (Teikoku Gekijou Theater), tomorrow I will go to Mitsukoshi,” once being used as an ad of sorts for the lifestyle of the capital’s wealthier and more leisured of women.
Matsuya Ginza is located in Ginza 3-chome and from the outside displays its branch of the LOUIS VUITTON boutique chain. Step inside to discover other brand shops such as FENDI, BVLGARI and CELINE.
Ginza Matsuzakaya is located in Ginza 6-chome and is home to GUCCI, ETRO, MaxMara and TOD’s among others.
The Yurakucho Mullion also contains another pair of department stores in the shape of Yurakucho Hankyu and Yurakucho Seibu with both crammed with some of the nation’s more fashionable brand and distinct designer shops.
Printemps Ginza is an official affiliate of “PRINTEMPS,” the world famous Parisian department store and as would be expected sells stylish clothing, accessories, interior related items, wine and foods – all at reasonable prices.
Mosaic Ginza Hankyu is located on the corner of the Sukiyabashi intersection and contains many shops focussing on casual and outdoor fashions, including GAP, Eddie Bauer and AIGLE. It also contains a branch of HMV.
Ginza’s Brand Shops
To detail all the brand shops in the Ginza area would seriously endanger the rainforests as almost all the respected and reputed world class brand shops a shopaholic could name are represented somewhere in Ginza.
Newer, autumn 2004 additions include LOUIS VUITTON renewed and reopened at the Namikidori store site in September as well as BARNEYS NEW YORK GINZA and CHRISTIAN DIOR – both of which opened in October. Brooks Brothers and EMILIO PUCCI both opened in November.
CHANEL GINZA Building finally opened on the Ginza Chuo Street in December and is the place to buy all the latest clothing designed by Karl Lagerfeld. The exterior walls of the ten-story building are illuminated using special lights to depict a tweed pattern so famous as the symbol of CHANEL.
Other brand shops, including GUCCI, Cartier, and Salvatore Ferragamo rushed to open over the last few years and while many of these premises were once located on Namikidori Street, a parallel street to Chuo Street, they have mostly now jumped over to offer their wares on Chuodori Street leaving Ginza as Tokyo’s “window on the world” of luxury and style.
Speciality Stores and More
The Apple Store Ginza is a store with distinct exterior walls on which the apple marks are actually lit up and is always full of Mac computer fans. UNIQLO, always popular, is in the New Melsa with its reasonably priced fleeces and T-shirts as on a more technological theme, the Sony Building with its show room displaying computers, digital cameras and the latest products of SONY is nearby. The GINZA, a shop with high-quality and stylish displays is the perfect place to find good toys, fancy goods and stuffed dolls at HAKUHINKAN.
Elegant jewelry originating in nature is to be had at MIKIMOTO, a jewelry shop specialising in pearls and established by the King of Pearls, Mikimoto Kokichi.
GINZA ITO-YA sells over 150,000 types of stationery product and painting materials but for more traditional products along the same lines, the old TOKYO KYUKYODO sells Japanese writing implements and smaller articles, such as papers with colored figures, postcards, incense, brushes and ink stones used in calligraphy.
Ginza Kunoya is a boutique containing smaller Japanese materials and accessories for the kimono with its furoshiki, a square of cloth used for wrapping, being rather popular.
Snack and foodwise, Kuya is famous for its delicious monaka (bean-jam-filled wafers). Kimiraya So-Honten is known as the shop that first sold anpan (a bean-jam bun) and many types of kanoko (Japanese sweets) can be purchased at GINZA KANOKO.
There are some large book shops in Ginza such as Book 1st in the GINZA CORE, ASAHIYA SHOTEN in the Toshiba Building at Sukiyabashi, KYO BUN KWAN, on the opposite side to Matsuya Ginza, (western language books as well as Japanese books available here) and FUKUYA SHOTEN which is located on the Chuodori street.
For souvenirs of a Japanese variety why not pay a visit to TOKYO PEARL? Originally a jewelry trading company, it now also offers retail pearls at its shop with English speaking staff ready to cater to your requirements.
After shopping, Ginza is one of the best places in Tokyo to eat and drink. Huge numbers of restaurants and coffee shops in Ginza make it impossible to introduce them all so I will briefly cover and describe the typical Ginza eateries and more up market and trendier of restaurants.
A French restaurant, BEIGE TOKYO, on the 10th floor of the new CHANEL building, is the first such restaurant run by a ‘brandC and is duly attracting much public attention.
Ginza Kyube, a very famous and well-established sushi restaurant, is often the restaurant of choice for many Japanese celebrities when in the area and a western style restaurant called Rengatei and known for its omelet filled with fried rice is also worth the wait to eat. GINZA TEN-ICHI is a tempura restaurant of much repute and LION Ginza 7-chome-ten is a pioneering Japanese beer hall. ISHINGO, famous for its steamed meat buns was established in 1899.
However, Ginza dining is not all about fame and expense as it has many inexpensive restaurants such as kaiten-sushi (revolving conveyor-belt sushi restaurants), fast-food chains and Japanese coffee shops such as DOUTOR in addition to the world famous STARBUCKS.
A neon-lit jungle at night, I will one day return to take you on a tour of the area’s many restaurants and bars.