Past and present: Ginza

November 6th, 2011By Category: Culture

A view of Ginza-dori in 1933 (top) and in 2011

The Ginza district of Tokyo is known all over the world as an upscale area full of department stores, fashion boutiques and flagship stores for luxury brands – all occupying some of the most expensive real estate on Earth.

The Chuo Ward office defines Ginza as extending from north from Shimbashi, south of Kyobashi, west of Tsukiji and east of Yurakucho.

The name Ginza comes from its humble beginning in the Edo Era. Tokugawa Ieyasu moved his government to Edo (the old name for Tokyo) in 1590. Prior to then, Ginza was mostly marshland. In 1612, a silver mint was established in the area which is where the naming “Ginza” [銀座] originates from. A stone market still indicates the original site on Ginza-dori (street).

The area form Tsukiji to Ginza was destroyed by a fire in 1872, and the Meiji government decided to rebuild Ginza as a model of Westernization. Using designs by Irish-born architect Thomas Waters, streets were laid out in a grid system, the Georgian-style buildings were made of bricks and fireproof. Brick buildings were put up for sale but the rents were too high and many went unoccupied.

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 destroyed much of Ginza. Many of the European-style buildings disappeared, but some older buildings were rebuilt, including the famous Wako store on the corner of the main Ginza intersection. It is famous for its Hattori Clock Tower, built by the founder of the Seiko watch company.

Ginza suffered during World War II. Restrictions were placed on stores selling Western goods, a curfew was put in place for bars and restaurants, neon signs and ads were toned down. The area was hammered in a series of firebombings near the end of World War II, on March 10, April 28 and May 25.

After the war, Ginza once again was rebuilt. Trams were a common sight on the streets until 1967. In 1970, the main street was closed off to traffic for the first time – the first of the so-called “pedestrian paradises” which are still popular today in various places in Tokyo.

Author of this article


GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

Related articles that may interest you