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GINZA – Branded as Japan’s Top Shopping Heaven

2018.09.28

Ginza is a prominent shopping area for locals and tourists.  The district has grid streets and the distinct feel of a European promenade.  The breakthrough as the most famous destination in Tokyo came with the opening of the first railway in 1872, connecting two ports, Shiodome and Yokohama. 

Streets that Lead the Modernisation

At the beginning of the Edo era (1603 – 1868), the Shogunate government developed this part of the capital city to create the great Tokaido highway from Nihonbashi, to connect the towns along the Pacific coast. 

The district of Ginza, Silver Exchange in Japanese, was planned in a grid style, which remains to the present day, to serve as a currency exchange and trading area.  Silver exchange moved in 1800 to another district to prevent corruption that had become rife in the area, but the name Ginza stayed with the location. 

The change to this relatively low-key trading district came after Japan opened its ports to overseas traders in 1854.

Great Fire that Changed the Face of Ginza

In 1872, a great fire devastated the entire district of Ginza.  In the same year, the first railway in Japan opened, connecting two ports in Shiodome and Yokohama.  The rebuilding of the Ginza area, which was in the direct neighbourhood of Shiodome Station, was very urgent.  The mayor of Tokyo commissioned Thomas Waters, an Irish self-claimed architect/surveyor general, to design and build a district to be robust against fires and to be the gateway to the modernisation of Japan’s capital.

Georgian style buildings were constructed with London’s Regent Street in mind, with tree and gaslight lining the streets.  The construction finished in 1877.

The previous residents were not able to go back due to the higher rent and tighter tenancy agreements.  The new tenants were mainly retailers selling premium items to privileged clients.  For aspiring retailers, it was a dream to have an outlet possessing this address.  Many of Japan’s signature brands, such as Mikimoto pearl, Seiko watch, Shiseido, Kyukyodo, all opened and still retain flagship stores in the same or near-by addresses.   

Ginza became a showcase of the modern and affluent face of Tokyo. 

More Destruction and Rebuilding

In 1923, the Great Earthquake of Kanto devastated Tokyo.  The grid streets of Ginza remained, but most of the buildings had to be rebuilt.  The rapid expansion of Tokyo Metropolitan Station and the local tram network added a boost to the redevelopment, where more department stores, theatres, and cafes opened and continued to thrive, defying the subsequent economic depressions caused by earthquakes and world financial crises. 

Ginza flourished in the 1930s as a symbol of modern society.  “Modern boys” and “modern girls” dressed in Art Deco-influenced styles, walking along the tree-lined main street.  This walking around, window shopping, and being seen in Ginza, was given a name, “Gin-bura”, as a pastime for sophisticated people.

Evolving Ginza as the Prime Shopping Location

Ginza lost its charm throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as Tokyo expanded westwards, But it endured the test of time.  At the end of the 1990s, with property prices calming down, European luxury brands began to relocate/reopen their flagship stores on the main street of Ginza. This time, these premium brand stores were trading side by side with affordable high street brands, adding varieties in the district to attract a broader range of consumers. 

The latest addition to this bustling district is the new showcase building for Sony.  Sony had its showroom since 1959.  The cost of land in Ginza encouraged company management to be sure that space is attractive, filled with ideas, imaginations, and excitement.  The building structure was also innovative, simulating the Guggenheim Museum in New York.  The lift would take customers to the top floor, and they could see and touch new products and developments as they stepped down the stairs.  There were restaurants, cafes, and greeneries in the building, as the base concept of this building was the garden of Ginza.

The concept of the total brand showroom in one building was new, and it has been a popular attraction as it evolved over the years.  The large screen was installed on outside walls, with illuminating glass floors, during the renewal in 1992. 

The latest project is in progress, and phase one was completed in August 2018.  The New Ginza Sony Park project aims at communicating brand messages with real and interactive experiences, but at the same time providing a space for customers who visit Ginza to enjoy the streets, doing what modern boys and girls in early 1900 did. Gin-bura, it is just going to be vertical this time.

This world famous shopping destination evolved and re-invented itself.  Most of the changes came organically from retailers and customers who valued the character of Ginza.  The identity and the interpretations of it built over the years, remains, and it will keep reinventing itself into the future, with roots firmly fixed in the ground.  Having a store in Ginza promenade is a brand statement, as it was over 100 years ago.

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