With more history as a shopping district than trendier Omotesando and Harajuku, Ginza is where high-end shopping first took root in Japan, but the area has yielded somewhat to the "fast fashion" of midlevel clothing chains. Yet even before this shift, Ginza didn't always have the cachet of wealth and style. In fact, it wasn't until a fire in 1872 destroyed most of the old houses here that the area was rebuilt as a Western quarter. It had two-story brick houses with balconies,
the nation's first sidewalks and horse-drawn streetcars, gaslights, and, later, telephone poles. Before the turn of the 20th century, Ginza was home to the great mercantile establishments that still define its character. The Wako department store, for example, on the northwest corner of the 4-chome intersection, established itself here as Hattori, purveyors of clocks and watches. The clock on the present building was first installed in the Hattori clock tower, a Ginza landmark, in 1894.
Many of the nearby shops have lineages almost as old, or older, than Wako's. A few steps north of the intersection, on Chuo-dori, Mikimoto sells the famous cultured pearls first developed by Kokichi Mikimoto in 1883. His first shop in Tokyo dates to 1899. South of the intersection, next door to the San-ai Building, Kyukyodo carries a variety of handmade Japanese papers and traditional stationery goods. Kyukyodo has been in business since 1663 and on Ginza since 1880. Across the street and one block south is the Matsuzakaya department store, which began as a kimono shop in Nagoya in 1611. And connected to the Ginza Line Ginza Station is the Mistukoshi department store, where the basement food markets are a real attraction. Stores like H&M and Uniqlo offer simple jeans and T-shirts to those seeking less traditional wares.
There's even a name for browsing this area: Gin-bura, or "Ginza wandering." The best times to wander here are Saturday afternoons and Sunday from noon to 5 or 6 (depending on the season), when Chuo-dori is closed to traffic between Shimbashi and Kyo-bashi.
Tokyo, Kanagawa-ken, Japan