Ginza: Tokyo’s Westernized Luxury

Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. Ginza is the most Westernized and luxurious shopping district in Japan.
Ginza is the most Westernized and luxurious shopping district in Japan.

Ginza is a symbol for Japan’s ultimate opulence and conspicuous consumption. Essential to brand equity, its shopping strips offer one of the most coveted spots for global luxury flagships.

Ginza is expensive; Ginza is flamboyant. Ginza is the most Westernized and luxurious shopping district of Japan. Southeast of the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station, it is surrounded by business districts on all sides, constantly swarmed by tourists and businessmen alike.

Ginza has a humble and not-so-ancient beginning. This area was built out of a swamp during the Azuchi–Momoyama period (1568–1600). In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu relocated the government’s silver coin mint to this area and named it “Shin-ryogae-cho,” which means “new money exchange town,” later known as “Ginza.”

A fire in 1872 leveled the place; later reconstruction incorporated fireproof brick buildings in Georgian style and straightened and widened the streets. Since then, the effort has been made towards Westernizing Ginza, turning it into a model of modernization.

As a result, Ginza has largely developed into a shopping and entertainment district and a symbol for Japan’s ultimate opulence and conspicuous consumption. Essential to brand equity, its shopping strips offer one of the most coveted spots for global luxury flagships. In 2013, its $984 per-square-foot price tag was the fifth most expensive retail area in the world.

Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. Ginza's shopping street winter illumination. Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. Ginza shopping district at night. Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. A tree-lined street in Ginza at night with no traffic.

In 2016, Ginza alone has 17 restaurants with Michelin two- or three-star ratings, more than the entire New York City. The majority of them are sushi establishments.

This ranking, however, has been sliding in recent years thanks to the 35% depreciation in Japanese yen against the United States dollar. Today, it is the upper section of 5th Avenue of Manhattan that commands the top spot at a price of $3,500 per square foot.

Regardless, Ginza is still one of the few places where one finds the finest things money can buy, especially food. This area is known for its high concentration of haute cuisine, especially sushi and traditional French. It helps being in close proximity to the Tsukiji Fish Market, world’s largest wholesale fish market.

For example, in 2016, Ginza alone has 17 restaurants with Michelin two- or three-star ratings, more than the entire New York City (at a combined 16). Of those restaurants, five are French and one Spanish, with the majority of the remaining being sushi establishments.

Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten is one of those three-star sushi establishments. It is an unassuming small eatery (10 seats) owned by Jiro Ono and is located underneath the Ginza subway station near exit C6. Jiro’s establishment is featured in David Gelb’s 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. Matsuya Ginza at night. Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. Ginza boutique: Bottega Veneta. Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. Ginza boutiques: De Beers, Fendi, Moncler. Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. Essential to brand equity, its shopping strips offer one of the most coveted spots for global luxury flagships. In 2013, its $984 per-square-foot price tag was the fifth most expensive shopping locations in the world.

First built in 1889, Kabuki-za is Ginza’s most well-known theatre for kabuki performance – a classical Japanese dance-drama featuring elaborate costume and make-up.

At night, Ginza comes alive with its illuminated trees and glass towers. People getting off work nearby come for a drink and various other after-work recreations. They socialize late into the night and catch the last train back home. Aside from the usual hostess clubs, bars, and lounges, one can also find more traditional entertainments.
Kabuki-za, for example, is Ginza’s most-known theatre for kabuki – a classical Japanese dance-drama featuring elaborate costume and make-up. This theatre was first built in 1889 and has seen itself being destroyed and rebuilt several times, like Tokyo itself. Today, it persists amongst the towers that define Ginza and its expensive allure.

Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. Ginza shopping district at night. Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. Ginza bar and eatery street at night. Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. The clock tower of Ginza Wako, a landmark of the neighbourhood. Ginza: Tokyo's Westernized Luxury. Kabuki-za in the Ginza district.

 

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