The name Ginza comes from the words gin meaning “silver” and za meaning “guild”. During the Edo period and more precisely in 1612 the Japanese government transferred its silver mint to this area. Since then, Ginza has always been associated with incredible wealth and nowadays, some of the most expensive real estate in the world can be found here. This is one of those districts in Tokyo where the most powerful businessmen and well-heeled ladies come for lunch. This is also the place where wide boulevards and narrow lanes are packed with high-end boutiques, department stores and exclusive restaurants. Flagship stores of some of the most recognized brands in the world of business will fight one another to get the best spots in this neighbourhood.
Despite all this opulence, there are also rare finds where you can buy cheaply. I am certainly not rich, and nevertheless when I visited Ginza, I ended up buying tons of clothing I didn’t even know I needed just because they looked very pretty and were at the same time inexpensive.
Having a stroll around the streets of Ginza is a very pleasant exercise, so much so that I went there twice; one with my friends and the second time on my own. On my first visit we did not manage to see much as it was difficult to get everyone to agree on what or where to go. During my lone stroll however I tried to squeeze three different fronts: Architecture, Shopping and Theatre.
Ginza is located south of Yaesu and Kyōbashi, west of Tsukiji, east of Yūrakuchō and Uchisaiwaichō, and north of Shinbashi.
I started off my walk at the Ginza 4 chome intersection, where you will find Ginza Place (address is 5-8-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku), an eleven-storey building, and its façade made from 5315 individual aluminium panels.
The project reopened to the public in September 2016 and it has since become a landmark in Tokyo. The building has balconies on the third and seventh floor allowing people to enjoy magnificent views of Ginza. Ginza Place is home to Nissan on the first and second floors and Sony’s showrooms from the fourth to sixth floors. You can also find restaurants in the two underground levels but if you fancy splashing some cash then you can head to the seventh floor. Michelin-starred, Parisian chef Thierry Marx runs two establishments: the Thierry Marx and Bistro Marx. They are closed on Sundays.
One thing I loved about Ginza is the remarkable density of buildings designed by famous architects. Here you can find the Maison Hermes by Renzo Piano, the Dior store by Kumiko Inui, Mikimoto Ginza 2 by Toyo Inzu and De Beers store by Jun Mitsui.
This last project, De Beers by Jun Mitsui ranked high amongst the buildings I wanted to see. (address is 2-5-11, Ginza, Chuo-ku)
De Beers building is in a very narrow street, so it was very difficult to step back and take a picture which could capture the full height of its interesting undulating façade. Jun Mitsui, the architect behind this project, claims to have been inspired by the sensuous curves of the female body. The building reminds me of the Dancing House in Prague by Frank Gehry.
Then as I was walking around the neighbourhood I came across a monumental UNIQLO store along Ginza’s main street, Chuo Dori (address is 6 Chome-9-5 Ginza). This is just a few blocks down from the Nissan crossing.
Ginza’s UNIQLO flagship store has an area of 5,000 square meters and it stands 12 stories high. It is the largest store in Tokyo and it is also the second largest in the world, after Shanghai’s which has more than 8000 square meters of retail space.
I really loved the front of this building by the architect Katayama Masamichi. It is a completely transparent façade which doubles up as advertising space for UNIQLO’s latest designs.
Every floor displays a different collection including everything from business attire, casualwear for men and women, babies, kids, and on the the eleventh floor there is a funky t-shirt collection called the UT t-shirt line. Here you can find hundreds of cute t-shirts carrying designs from the likes of Disney, Winnie the Pooh, Andy Warhol, Jean Paul Basquiat, David Lynch to name a few. It seems as if you are stepping into a cleverly curated t-shirt museum.
I was expecting to be there for not much longer than 20 minutes. UNIQLO has never been a brand I go for when it comes to buying clothing. I was surprised that I left the store almost 2 hours later and with a bag full of trousers for myself and some presents for the family. I must admit the trousers fitted well and they were decently priced. They also offered tailor service in store. In my case the trousers were too long so I had to leave them and come back the following day to collect them. This service is free of charge.
(Ginza 6 shopping center, opposite UNIQLO)
From UNIQLO, I walked down Chuo Dori street towards the Nissan crossing, I took a right there and headed towards the Kabukiza theatre (address is 4 Chome-12-15 Ginza, Chūō) Please see the map below:
Kabuki is a form of Japanese theatre where all the characters are played by male actors including the women’s roles. It is said that the kabuki plays are targeted at the common people as opposed to Noh, another form of Japanese drama aimed at the highly educated classes. Kabuki actors are famous for wearing multicolour costumes together with elaborate masks. Usually younger male actors play the women’s roles due to their less masculine physical appearance but most importantly because they can produce higher pitched notes during their musical performances. Another feature of the kabuki plays is the extensive use of props, crazy scenery and awesome acrobatic numbers.
Most recently, the Kabukiza theatre has introduced the use of headsets for non-Japanese speakers. The language used in these plays is a form of a very old-fashioned Japanese. This has helped to broaden the appeal of the Kabuki plays worldwide. The Kabukiza theatre has had year-round performances for over 20 years.
The Kabukiza theatre is a testament to the relentless spirit of the Japanese people. Initially built in 1899, the theatre has been rebuilt four times: a fire, an earthquake, a world war and finally to give room for a skyscraper to be built on top of it.
Nowadays, if you fancy watching one of these plays bear in mind they are very lengthy, almost four hours. So you either watch the matinee show at 11:00 am or perhaps opt for the evening one starting at 4:00 pm. It’s pretty much dedicating half of your day to the Kabuki. I did not watch it myself, but I have read extremely positive reviews. However, if you just want to watch one of the acts you can do so by going to the theatre on the same day and buy the tickets to watch this short part of the play from a gallery in the 4th floor. These tickets sell out quick so make sure you turn up early.
If you are not in Ginza and want to make it to the theatre using the underground, please use the Hibiya or Asakusa lines and get off at a station called Higashi Ginza. The theatre is across the street from this station.
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I hope you enjoyed this post about Ginza. It is indeed an unmissable place to visit on your next trip to Tokyo. Please use the box below to leave your comments and thoughts about the post and please don’t forget to subscribe.
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