History

Owariya version Partial Map of Edo Tsukiji Hatchobori Nihonbashi Ezu (Tsukiji Hatchobori Nihonbashi Map) (1857)

Ginza in the Edo Period

The district name, “Ginza” originated from the Ginza Yakusho (government office) in the Edo period. In 1603, the Edo Shogunate founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu moved the silver coin mint from Sunpu to its current location of Ginza 2-Chome. The town’s official name was Shin-ryogae-cho (meaning “new money exchange town”), but it came to be known colloquially as “Ginza.”
Some people say that Ginza used to be in the ocean, but it is not the case that the entire Ginza perimeter was completely submerged prior to the Edo period. It is thought that what is known as “Ginza” today was low marshes at the tip of a peninsula called Edomaejima largely jutting out from Tokyo Bay. The building of Edo city then began with the reclaiming of these marshes, Hibiya inlet and the Tsukiji area.
An organization called “Ginza” was established to create silver coins for the Shogunate and consisted of a governmental office in charge of buying and managing the silver as well as clerical work and a factory for casting the silver coins. Incidentally, Kinza, the place for dealing with gold, was in the current location of the Bank of Japan head office in Nihonbashi.

Ginza Hassho no chi (Origin of Ginza) monument on Ginza-dori 2-Chome

Sumpu Ginza Hassho no chi (Origin of Sumpu Ginza) monument near the JR Shizuoka station

As the “Ginza” organization had privileged rights for handling silver, there were tremendous profits, and the “Ginza” bureaucrats were quite prosperous. After numerous cases of bribery, “Ginza” was moved to Kakigara-cho in Nihonbashi in 1800. Despite this, the name “Ginza” stayed behind.
Ginza was also home to “Shuza” (that handled cinnabar), “Obanza” (that received special privileges from the Shogunate to cast gold coins to be used as gifts), and “Fundoza” (that produced and sold standard weights used in measuring scales; ingots for making coins were also stored in this form), among others. Incidentally, eight fundo weights were used in the logo of the Ginza Street Association that was established during the Taisho period.
Ginza was mostly inhabited by artisans. Nevertheless, the area around Owari was quite bustling. What is currently the intersection between Chuo-dori and Miyuki-dori was lined with rows of kimono shops, including Ebisuya, Kameya and Hoteiya that were said to have been very prosperous, on par with Mitsui Echigoya in Nihonbashi.

The current Ginza-dori and Miyuki-dori intersection in the early 19th century. Hoteiya, Kameya and Ebisuya kimono shops line Owari-cho. From the 1835 Edo Meisho Zue (Guide to famous Edo sites).

Ginza also held the residences that were specially bestowed by the Shogunate to Noh players of the Kanze, Konparu and Kongo schools. Relevant individuals occupied the surrounding areas. Masters of the Konparu style later became the Konparu geisha who were the foundation of the current Shinbashi geisha. The Kobiki-cho area was lined with rows of theaters and was the famous area where the Kano Painting School was located. A fruit and vegetable market and bamboo riverside market (selling bamboo for building material) were set up along the Kyobashi River, making it very lively.
Ginza was thus a place where large bustling shops lined its main street that was also a part of Tokaido, the Edo-Kyoto highway beginning in Nihonbashi., On the one hand, it was a place where lively trade by boats took place in the surrounding river, and on the other hand a place with stretches of artisan villages and the home to Noh players, Kabuki actors, masters of the Tokiwazu style of joruri narrative used for kabuki dances and painters.

Ginza Hassho no chi (Origin of Ginza) monument on Ginza-dori 2-Chome

Sumpu Ginza Hassho no chi (Origin of Sumpu Ginza) monument near the JR Shizuoka station

The current Ginza-dori and Miyuki-dori intersection in the early 19th century. Hoteiya, Kameya and Ebisuya kimono shops line Owari-cho. From the 1835 Edo Meisho Zue (Guide to famous Edo sites).

Tokio Dai-ni Meisho Ginza-dori Renga-ishi no Zu (Illustration of Ginza brickstone in Tokyo No. 2 Landmarks) Hiroshige (3rd) 1874

Ginza in the Meiji and Taisho eras

Ginza that was bursting with energy throughout the Genroku era temporarily fell out of fashion in the Bunka and Bunsei eras. By the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, it had become quite neglected.
Then, following a huge fire in 1872, it was reborn as a Westernized Rengagai, or “Bricktown” built by the Meiji government, designed by a British architect called Thomas James Waters.
The project had two central pillars: (1) rebuild the streets with a focus on increasing the width, and (2) build fireproof Western-style houses mainly of brick. The government spent 1/27 of their budget, an enormous sum, for construction.
At the end of construction, the main street was widened to 27 meters, more than twice as wide as the previous street, and was separated into a vehicle zone and a pedestrian sidewalk. The sidewalks were also laid with brick. Gaslamps were installed and cherry blossom, pine and maple trees were planted along the street. Based on the district block system used until then, the so-called Hachiken street and Goken street were built and became a neat grid. Needless to say, it was the foundation for the current Ginza blocks.
The brick houses were built in the Georgian architectural style. An overhanging balcony on the second floor was supported by circular columns and covered a veranda below. These houses were built in sequence from 1-Chome. Once the brick houses were completed, they were sold off by the government to civilians. Despite the extremely high price of the buildings, the brick was poor quality and quickly became damp from humidity, often causing the houses to become ruined in no time. As a result, the area was full of houses that remained vacant from the very start.

Ginza brick monument and gas lamp replica in Kyobashi

Bringing Together all the Latest Products and Merchants

The year of 1872 was also the year that Japan’s first railway, connecting Yokohama and Shimbashi, was completed. Ginza was also the shopping area in front of Shimbashi station, and merchant after merchant opened up shops there to sell the imports and the latest hot products. There were all sorts of shops — western-style restaurants, bakeries, bag vendors, sukiyaki restaurants, clock dealers, western-style furniture shops, western-style clothing shops, and much more. These strongly enterprising merchants set up window displays in their shop fronts. Unlike their pre-Meiji counterparts where vendors sat down in shops floored with tatami mats, these new style of shops were set up so that customers could freely enter and look at the items for sale with their shoes still on.
Ginza began take shape as the town where people could enjoy watching a western-style cityscape and enjoy window shopping — in other words, a town where they could enjoy a nice stroll that would later come to be called “Gin-bura.”

Sundries shop selling western goods Iseya (Ginza 2-Chome)

Clocks, spectacles, surveying instruments Tamaya (Ginza 3-Chome)

Western wine depot Shimizuya Trading Co. (Owari-cho 1-Chome)

Information Publishing Hub

Another distinctive characteristic of Ginza was the foray of newspaper publishers. Journalists that were sensitive to what was hot and new assembled in the fashionable district that gathered all things western. Shimbashi station was also a hub for distributing goods to rural areas. There was even a point in time when newspaper publishers were located on all the Owari-cho intersections (Ginza 4-Chome intersections). The newspaper publishers were followed by magazine publishers, then printing houses, advertising firms and so on, making Ginza a mega information publishing hub.

Tokio Meisho Ginza-dori Asano Shimbun-sha Seidai no Shinzu (Tokyo Landscape: Illustration depicting the thriving Asano Newspaper Company in Ginza-dori) Hiroshige (3rd) 1879 Asano Newspaper Company where the Wako department store now stands on Ginza 4-Chome

The beginning of “Gin-bura”

As the Meiji era passed the halfway point, bazaars began to appear. These bazaars were similar to today’s department stores or multi-tenant commercial buildings. Lining both sides of roughly two and a half meter wide aisles were small shops selling toys, picture books, writing materials, and various other miscellaneous goods. The buildings were constructed so that you would spiral up the gently sloping aisle until you reached the top floor of the building, then begin a gentle descent. In 1902, seven such bazaars were standing on Ginza Chuo-dori.

Bazaar Hakuhinkan

Ginza thus became a place where many people gathered, but shopping was not the only objective. People began to think it cool to simply walk through Ginza and to consider meeting up in Ginza to be the forefront of the era. The phrase “Gin-bura,” to mean wandering around Ginza, emerged in 1915-16. There are many theories for the word’s origin.
The phrase “wander through Ginza” was of course commonplace, but, in addition to this, there was also the phrase, “Gin-no-bura” that had a negative nuance, referring to hoodlums in Ginza. This phrase may have become modified into the word “Gin-bura” to mean walking through Ginza with no purpose in mind. Another story is that students of Keio University would go to Ginza for a cup of Brazilian coffee, still a novelty at the time, an activity they would refer to as “Ginza de Brazil coffee”, which was shortened to “Gin-bura.”
Either way, the word “Gin-bura” stuck, becoming adopted into regular speech and even coming to appear in the Kojien Japanese Dictionary. Today, the word is essential for describing the allure of the Ginza district.

Café Printemps

The event that epitomized Ginza as a place to long for, a place at the cutting edge, and a special place where cultural figures gathered was the opening of Café Printemps. In 1911, when the painter Shozo (or Seiso) Matsuyama returned from Paris, he tried to reproduce the atmosphere of the Parisian cafés. The naming of his café was assisted by Kaoru Osanai (Playwrite) and the interior design by a young Ryusei Kishida (Artist). As many people did not know what a café was, a number of people were solicited as sponsors. Those sponsors included big-time authors like Kafu Nagai and Ogai Mori as well as geisha from Shimbashi and Akasaka. In addition to coffee blended by a shop run by an Italian in Yokohama and whiskey, brandy and other foreign alcohol, the Café also offered various types of liqueurs. It became a thriving social venue where literary figures and painters with experience traveling abroad came to gather. Up until then, there was nowhere in Japan that could act as an easygoing social lounge for holding lively discussions, meeting up with people, or dropping in for a quick cup of tea.
Café Printemps was soon followed one after another by the Café Paulista, Café Lion, Tiger and so on. While each of these cafés had their own distinctive qualities, they all set adrift a desirable western mood. In addition to letting its customers enjoy the taste of feeling fashionable by simply being there, the cafés also acted as social lounges. Every move made by the famous people who gathered in the cafés became the object of admiration and the buzz of the town, and, it goes without saying, largely helped form Ginza’s image.

Picture postcard to commemorate the 1925 expansion of Cafe Tiger that opened the previous year

Establishment of the Ginza Street Association

By the beginning of the Taisho period, Ginza’s Bricktown had become remodeled to look exquisitely Japanese through the creative efforts of its residents who made it livable by their standards. In addition to laying down tatami mat flooring inside for carrying on a Japanese style of living, noren curtains were hung in the facades and extensions were added to many buildings to make them look truly Japanese.
The street side trees were switched from cherry blossom, pine and maple to willows. Willow trees became established as the official street side tree of Ginza, so much to the extent that the thought of Ginza evoked an image of willow trees. Then, a plan was put forth by the city of Tokyo to renovate Ginza-dori t hat included widening the road, removing the willows and planting ginkgo trees in their place, and paving the sidewalks in concrete.

Ginza-dori around in 1902. Bricktown has become distinctively more Japanese

The local residents voiced strong opposition to these plans, and especially to the removal of the willow trees, which led to the establishment in 1919 of the Kyoshin Association as an alliance of shops along Ginza -dori. The removal of willow trees went so far as to become an issue in the city council, but the plan was pushed through by Mayor Shinpei Goto and all the willows were removed in 1921.
Soon after, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck and a movement began to bring back the willow trees. In 1932, willow trees were revived in Ginza as the street side tree.
The Kyoshin Association later changed its name to the Ginza Street Association and was joined by the shops along Harumi-dori following the war. It has continued and still continues to preserve the prosperity and protect the safety and security of the Ginza district.

Ginza brick monument and gas lamp replica in Kyobashi

Sundries shop selling western goods Iseya (Ginza 2-Chome)

Clocks, spectacles, surveying instruments Tamaya (Ginza 3-Chome)

Western wine depot Shimizuya Trading Co. (Owari-cho 1-Chome)

Tokio Meisho Ginza-dori Asano Shimbun-sha Seidai no Shinzu (Tokyo Landscape: Illustration depicting the thriving Asano Newspaper Company in Ginza-dori) Hiroshige (3rd) 1879 Asano Newspaper Company where the Wako department store now stands on Ginza 4-Chome

Bazaar Hakuhinkan

Picture postcard to commemorate the 1925 expansion of Cafe Tiger that opened the previous year

Ginza-dori around in 1902. Bricktown has become distinctively more Japanese

Ginza willow tree monument

Near the Ginza 4-Chome intersection in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake. The Kabuki-za Theater is shown in the upper right

The Great Kanto Earthquake and the War

Reconstruction after the Earthquake

On September 1, 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake almost completely destroyed Bricktown that represented Ginza following the Meiji period. Not only did the brick come crumbling down, but it was even reduced to ashes by fires in most areas.
The Ginza shops banded together and began efforts towards reconstruction, which was touchingly portrayed by Takitaro Minakami in his novel, Ginza Fukko (“The Reconstruction of Ginza”).
The shops along Ginza -dori worked tirelessly to restore what was lost. They built a barrack and decided to open their shops en masse on November 10. Avant-garde artists designed the facade of the barrack. The artists employed a modern design style that emerged within the unrestricted atmosphere of the Taisho era, with some being quite outlandish. It created a unique scenery in Ginza and was widely talked about.
The City of Tokyo also set forth their plans for reconstruction from the earthquake, with a major change for Ginza being to widen Harumi-dori and newly construct Showa-dori. If you look closely at a map of Ginza, you can see that the 4-Chome block is smaller than the rest. This is because of the widening of Harumi-dori.

The Emergence of Department Stores

During the reconstruction period, department stores appeared in Ginza for the first time. It began with the opening of Matsuzakaya in 1924. The practice of removing your shoes was abandoned and the revolutionary new style of building allowed wearing of street shoes throughout its entire premises. It launched many new business techniques, for example offering free shuttle buses from Yurakucho and Shimbashi stations and setting up a zoo on the roof. The zoos even housed large animals like leopards and lions.。
The Matsuya department store opened in 1925. The shops surrounded an open area in the center and the building held an aquarium. Mitsukoshi opened in 1930. While the development of these three large scale department stores was a cause of concern for the local specialty shops, it actually acted to raise the competitive power of the shops. It was during this time that we began to see the coexistence and co-prosperity of department stores and specialty shops that is a prime feature of Ginza.
The department stores attracted new customers to Ginza and increased the momentum of reconstruction efforts. In 1929, the real-estate rent in Ginza became the highest in Japan for the first time, surpassing that of Nihonbashi. Shopping streets began popping up all over the country with “Ginza” in their name.
The motion picture and theater district was developed in Hibiya by Ichizo Kobayashi of Hankyu Railway around this time. In 1934, the subway that was extended from Asakusa finally made its way to Ginza. Customers from Asakusa that was the top-most shopping district at the time were also brought into Ginza. Ginza thus came to be known as the established leader of districts in Japan.

Ginza 6-Chome in 1933. The large building in the front is Matsuzakaya and the ones in the distance are Mitsukoshi and Matsuya

The Zenith of Cafés

Ginza, that gained top place in Japan as a shopping area where department stores and upscale specialty shops converged, was home to modern cafés, bars and small coffee shops and restaurants, creating a glamorous night scene. Police surveys from 1929 show Ginza’s cafés and bars to number as many as about 600.
While the Japanese economy was struggling with the Great Depression, massive cafés financed by Osaka businesses opened up along Ginza-dori, lighting up splashy neon signs.
So-called mobos and mogas (short for modan boi and modan garu, or “modern boy” and “modern girl”) strutted through the street. Mobos had slicked back hair topped with a Borsalino hat, wore sailor trousers and round glasses with thick plastic rims and carried a walking stick. Mogas wore their hair in an Eton crop and painted their eyebrows. They wore kimonos with daring new patterns and the latest western fashion, strolling swankily as if they were stage actresses.
This was also a time when the popularity of records exploded, and songs centered on a Ginza theme were published one and another. One that became a massive hit and remains well-known today is Tokyo Koshinkyoku (“Tokyo March”; lyrics by Yaso Saijo, music by Shinpei Nakayama). The lyrics, “jazz de odotte rikyuuru de fukete, akerya dansaa no namida-ame,” meaning “dance the night away with jazz and liqueur, at sunrise the dancer’s tearful rain lightly falls,” epitomize the mood of the era that was the zenith of cafés.

Dazzling neon lights of cafes shine near the Ginza 2-Chome intersection in the early Showa period (1920s and ’30s

The War

While people were being swept away by a mood of pleasure and self-indulgence, Japan launched firmly into the War. In the streets of Ginza where mogas strut, members of the women’s society stood claiming that “luxury was the enemy” and urging people to “stop wearing perms.” The year of 1944 came, and street lamps and tram rails were dismantled to be used as military supplies. Major theaters including the Kabuki-za Theater were ordered to close, and the shining neon lights went out. Because food was so scarce, some people even cultivated land in Ginza into fields.

Fund-raising by the women’s society Imon Day (to collect funds for sending care packages to soldiers on the front) in front of Matsuya. Mid-1930s

The first air raid on Ginza came on January 27, 1945. Taimei Elementary School was directly hit by a bomb that day, killing the teachers.
The air raids continued on March 9 and 10 and on May 25, bringing almost the entire Ginza district to ashes. Many stories from the war remain, including stories of shopkeepers who evacuated their families and stayed behind alone to protect their shops, stories of people who escaped the bombs by running for shelter to the underground of the Toshiba Building during a raid, stories of people born and raised in Ginza who were evacuated and had to labor through life in the countryside for the first time, and countless others.

Burnt ruins. View of Ginza and Yurakucho from Tsukiji (source: Mainichi Newspaper)

Ginza 6-Chome in 1933. The large building in the front is Matsuzakaya and the ones in the distance are Mitsukoshi and Matsuya

Dazzling neon lights of cafes shine near the Ginza 2-Chome intersection in the early Showa period (1920s and ’30s

Fund-raising by the women’s society Imon Day (to collect funds for sending care packages to soldiers on the front) in front of Matsuya. Mid-1930s

Burnt ruins. View of Ginza and Yurakucho from Tsukiji (source: Mainichi Newspaper)

三井住友銀行 銀座支店/(株)天賞堂/みずほ銀行 銀座通支店/
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