Today, many people know that the Ginza district in Tokyo is home to numerous upscale shopping, dining and entertainment venues. But before one square meter of land in the district’s center became valued at well over ten million yen, Ginza was a swamp, which was filled in during the 16th century. Its name was derived from the silver coin mint established there in 1612 during the Edo period. (Ginza means silver mint in Japanese.)
A fire destroyed most of the area in 1872 from which point the Meiji government designated Ginza as an area for modernization. The government planned the construction of fireproof European-style brick buildings and larger, improved streets connecting the Shimbashi Station to the Tsukiji and important government buildings. In 1873, a Western-style shopping promenade on the street from the Shinbashi Bridge to the Kyobashi Bridge was completed. It wasn’t until after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that Ginza developed into the upscale shopping district it is known for today.
Most of the European-style buildings have disappeared over the years, but some of the older buildings still remain. The most prominent being the Wako building with its iconic Hattori Clock Tower. The building and clock tower were originally built by Kintaro Hattori, the founder of Seiko.
Having evolved into a prominent outpost of western luxury shops in recent years, Ginza is a popular destination on weekends, when the central Chuo-dori Street is closed to traffic. The traffic blockade began in the 1960s under Governor Ryokichi Minobe. The closure takes place from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Saturdays and from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Sundays (until 6:00 PM from April-September). Ginza is where shoppers and tourists can find the infamous $10 cups of coffee and virtually every leading brand name in fashion and cosmetics.
Aside from the shopping and dining, another popular destination in Ginza is the Kabuki-za, the premier theater in Tokyo for the traditional Kabuki drama.
The original Kabuki-za was a wooden structure that came into being in 1889. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times due to fires, earthquakes and World War II raids. The current Kabuki-za underwent a transformation beginning April 30, 2010 where the façade was retained but a 29-story modern building was added to house the theater and commercial office space. The theater was reopened to the public on April 2, 2013.
Shopping may not be your primary goal when visiting Japan, but the Ginza District is definitely worth browsing when you are there. If you have time, try and catch a performance at the Kabuki-za if one is available. Your travels in Ginza will definitely provide you with experiences which you cannot find anywhere else.
The famous, upscale Mitsukoshi Department Store
Ginza Café on Fourth Street
A trendy tourist destination, you will find many tour buses crowding the already congested streets of Ginza