At the height of the Japanese economic bubble in the 80s Ginza was at the center of it all. The posterboy, it-boy, or as Sinclair Lewis penned – the he-man. Big, bold, monied and strutting around like Mick Jagger live at Wembley Stadium. Those days are long gone but there remains an element of the hedonism and luxury that epitomized the era thirty years ago. Look, it’s a shopping area so if you’re looking for anything else then probably best to give it a miss. However, its proximity to Tokyo station, Marunouchi and Yurakucho make it a typical tourist destination. It’s home to all the major brands such as Dior, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel but it also has smaller more sophisticated brands such as Anya Hindmarch and Japanese label Porter. It’s packed with consumers by day and pleasure seekers by night due to the nest of top-end hostess bars which are mostly based in the back alleys and need-to-know streets. There’s a lot of money here so if you don’t like ostentatiousness then better go somewhere else.
It has a very different feel to other main hubs such as Shinjuku and Shibuya. It’s clean, there are many well-dressed ladies and dapper gents and it kind of tries to imitate parts of Paris. There are some quaint tree-lined back-streets and dinky little jewelry stores as well as some super cocktail bars such as the world-renowned Star Bar Ginza, Bar High Five and a personal favourite – Bar Tender, run by the legendary Kazuo Ueda. Although the area is all about fashion. The major department stores are Mitsukoshi and Matsuya which are only a minute away from each other as well as brands such as Uniqlo, Brooks Brothers and Comme des Garcons’ beautiful and must-visit Dover Street Market. DSM as it’s more commonly known is home to all the Comme des Garcons labels such as Junya Watanabe and Tricot as well as special collaborations with other brands such as Thom Browne, Undercover and Supreme. The seventh floor also hosts the wonderful Parisian cafe Rose Bakery where you can munch one of the best scones in the world and some seriously good coffee. It’s worth a visit just for the scones.
WHAT TO EXPECT
As previously mentioned Ginza is a luxury playground so it’s fair to assume that it attracts a certain kind of visitor. Well-heeled, arrogant and often obnoxious but that, it’s fair to say, comes with the territory. In recent years the district has seen a well-publicised influx of affluent Chinese tourists who have been the center of a fair amount of negative Japanese press. However, it’s a cool place to walk around especially at the weekend where the mahin street is closed off to traffic and made into a “pedestrian paradise” or “hokoten” in Japanese. Have a great Belgian waffle at Manneken or a cup of tea at wonderful tea house Uogashi-cha look for one of a kind stationery at Itoya – a 9 floor stationery brothel for paper and pen geeks.
WHAT NOT TO EXPECT
Don’t expect humility. And don’t look for a club or run of the mill bar scene. There are bars but they are expensive or shit. There’s no inbetween. It’s funny but a lack of real nightlife is something which characterizes the east of Tokyo. From Asakusa and Ueno to Marunouchi and Ginza things get pretty dull after dark – unless you plan to destroy your company credit card in soulless hostess or titty bars. It’s very much a daytime location so get your credit card out and if you’re in the mood for a suit or an evening dress then Ginza is the place. There are also plenty of eateries and coffee shops to boost up during your shopping extravaganzas.
It may sound as though Ginza is just about fashion or tea but there is a fair amount of culture too. There are some good galleries here like Pola Museum Annex, Chanel has a lovely space too at the Chanel Nexus Hall. Ginza also plays host to the renowned Kabukiza, built in 1889, which is the main theater in Tokyo for Kabuki – the ancient Japanese theater form. To the uninitiated Kabuki can be quite unintelligible and often very long but one-act tickets are available and it’s definitely worth some of your time. Some of the stories, sets, costumes and masks are stunning and can really make your day.
YOU’LL FALL IN LOVE WITH
Ginza has a warren of backstreets and alleyways which are worth exploring. It has some nifty craft stores which are ideal for presents or gifts. However it’s really all about vapid consumerism so if you can’t beat them join them. Matsuya and Mitsukoshi are huge stores with a multitude of boutiques and stores often collected into categories such as—domestic brands, international designers, menswear etc…They also have English guides too which can make finding your way a little easier. So get your glad rags on and delve into what the district has to offer. Bring your wallet and ballsy attitude and get in on the Ginza act.