Ginza Crossing

Streetcars ply the dirt-covered Ginza, here at Ginza 4-chome, in this ca. 1905 image. To the left can be seen the clock-towered Hattori building (current site of the Wako building), where the Seiko Watch Co. was founded in 1890.

Ginza Crossing

If Asakusa and Yoshiwara represented the city's past, then Ginza [Silver mint] in 1903 represented Tokyo's future.

Technically a grouping of smaller neighborhoods, Ginza was -- and still very much is -- popularly referred to as Tokyo's "Main Street"; a promenade stretching northward from Shimbashi on through Ginza Crossing and Kyobashi to Nihonbashi. (The thoroughfare is technically known as Chuo-dori [Central Road].) Along it are still found many of the city's most prominent stores.

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Ginzadori at Tokyo, ca. 1910.

After a fire in 1872 leveled much of the district, Ginza was fashionably, and famously, rebuilt as a showpiece of Japan's rapid modernization. Among the earliest influences was Western architecture. For decades, brick, stone and ferro-concrete were more widely used along Ginza's famed boulevard than anywhere else in Japan.

As Ginza prospered, it became fashionable to walk its boulevard to window-shop [Ginbura] or to sit in its cafès and beer halls ... and even milk bars! It very much was not unlike walking down New York's 5th Avenue around the same time. The Roarin' '20s brought to Ginza the same sense of liberating energy that could also be found on the streets of Paris. The moga [Modern girl, fr. mo-dan ga-ru] and the mobo [Modern boy, fr. mo-dan boi] were Tokyo companions of the Lost Generation making waves in post-WWI arts and literature before it all came crashing down with the Great Depression.

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Mikimoto Kokichi, founder of Mikimoto Pearls, opened his first Ginza store in 1899.

Ginza served as an incubator for two of Japan's earliest manufacturers: comestic giant Shiseido, founded in a Ginza pharmacy in 1872, and Seiko, the famous watch-maker, which was headquartered for many years in the Hattori building at Ginza Crossing (present-day location of Wako). Mikimoto Kokichi also sold his first cultured pearls a door or two up down from the Crossing. Along Ginza was also where Japan's first permanent gas and, later, electric lighting was installed. The country's first beer hall (the Ebisu, in 1899) and cafés (Café Plantan and Café Paulista, both in 1902) were also established and prospered there.

Three times Ginza has risen phoenix-like from the ashes of disaster: the 1873 fire, the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, and the 1945 war-time fire-bombings. Some of the world's most expensive real estate can still found along "the Ginza," where property is priced into the tens of thousands of dollars per m3. Even today, any store without a location on Ginza lacks a certain un je-ne-sais-quoi. And the Ginza boulevard is still packed with window-shopping people every Sunday when traffic is prohibited and the whole length of Ginza, from Shimbashi to Nihonbashi, becomes a pedestrian paradise.