The Centennial of the Ginza Street Association
Every town in Japan has a local merchants’ association and Ginza, being no exception, is home to theGinza Street Association, established in 1919 (Taisho 8). If I were to refer to it as the first or pioneer of merchants’ associations, I would probably receive comments from other associations claiming to have been established earlier, but I doubt anyone would be against the idea that it is “the king of merchants’ associations.”
This year the Ginza Street Association is celebrating its centennial. Learning that a book on its centennial history is being compiled, I interviewed Mr. Mitsuru Saito, the twelfth Director of the Association, and Secretary-General Ms. Eriko Takezawa.
With Mr. Mitsuru Saito, 12th Director
My first question was what had brought this association into being in 1891. An event that directly led to its establishment was the Ginza-dori road widening project.
“When the first City Planning Law was promulgated, the city administration proposed plans to modernize Ginza-dori. This included plans not only to broaden the street but also to remove the gas lamps and replace the willows with poplars….”
The local storeowners joined forces and stood up to prevent the authorities from arbitrarily going ahead with the undesired renovation of Ginza. People had just begun to use the term “Ginbura” in the early years of the Taisho period, so the emergence of Ginza tourism may also have contributed to the movement.
The Association was initially launched as “Kyo-shin Rengo-kai,” taking “kyo” from the Kyobashi district and “shin” from the Shinbashi district. The first Chairman, Kunihiko Moritake, who I assume led the cause, ran a store called Moritake Shoten in Ginza 6-chome (then, Owaricho 2-chome) and offered the second floor of his store for gatherings.
Moritake Shoten – according to a local business map from the Taisho period, the store was located on the northern side of (then) Tenshodo where GINZA SIX stands now. The map also provides the business category of each store; and it says that Moritake Shoten specializes in “machinery and hardware.” Koichi Noguchi’s Meiji no Ginza Shokunin Monogatari (Stories of Ginza’ Craftsmen in the Meiji Period) provides the following description:
“Besides running a retail business, the store was commissioned by the Tokyo City Government to supply all the materials necessary for the city’s waterworks construction project. Although he did not have a very large store, as a supplier of waterworks materials, he made profits of a different order of magnitude, which made him one of the most wealthy landowners in Ginza in only a few years.”
His being “one of the most wealthy landowners,” is particularly convincing evidence of his qualifications as the first Chairman. In a map from 1931 (Showa 6) (Dai Nippon shokugyo-betsu meisai-zu (Great Japan Detailed Map by Industry)), Morinaga Candy Store stands after Moritake Shoten, so Moritake may have closed his business after having made a fortune.
As for the “willows” that were to be replaced under the road improvement plan, gingkoes were planted instead of poplars, but the gingko trees were burned down in the Great Kanto Earthquake. In 1929 (Showa 29), when Ginza-dori had no boulevard trees, “Tokyo Koshinkyoku (Tokyo March)” made the hit charts, giving rise to calls for willow trees. In 1930 (Showa 5), the Ginza Street Association, which had changed its name from Kyo-shin Rengo-kai advocated the restoring of the willow trees, and in 1932 (Showa 7) Ginza-dori became lined with willow trees once again, thanks to a donation made by the Tokyo Asahi Shimbun.
The Association had not only voiced the replanting of willow trees, but had also called for the removal of telephone poles with a view to the 1940 Olympic Games (which were cancelled). To my great surprise, they had vilified the tram at the start of the Showa period (1925-1989).
“The ugly tram and its noise, the filthy barracks, the spider web-like telephone poles and power lines, the poor willow trees whose growth isd hindered by them, bicycles parked in the street, recklessly standing signposts, distasteful underpass entrances, low sunshades, etc.”
Points of improvements recommended at the time (1936) are listed in a report compiled by the Ginza Kensatsu-tai, a survey team hosted by the Association. That means Ginza’s tram only came to be remembered as a part of the picturesque scenery of Ginza a while after it was abolished in December 1967.
The Association’s influence helped Ginza recover from the aftermath of the Taisho earthquake and Showa war. I was quite impressed by the manual for building barracks formulated by the Association jointly with Okura Doboku-gumi (currently Taisei Corporation).
“Use mortar to construct a building with a six-meter high storefront. Install an 80-centimeter canopy in the middle, with a window under it and a signboard above . The signboard should have the store name written out using the English alphabet, accompanied by a picture depicting the business. The building should be 5 “ken” (1 ken= approximately 1.8 meters) long, using the 3 “ken” in the front as store area and the remaining two “ken” in the back as living space.”
I am sure that not everything proceeded according to the manual, but the intentions were to precisely design the town from the stage of building temporary business locations. Only Ginza would be expected to pursue such a plan.
Writing out the store name in English was probably for the Allied Occupation forces. Following a period of occupation, the post-war townscape took shape in around 1952 or 1953. In the 1953 (Showa 28) movie “Tokai no yokogao (A city in profile),” directed by Hiroshi Shimizu, Ryo Ikebe, appearing as Ginza’s sandwich board man, walks up and down Ginza-dori looking for a lost girl. The viewer can enjoy the fully restored Ginza townscape – Colombin’s signboard with a picture of the Eiffel Tower and the Peko-chan doll just introduced by Fujiya. The Association was, of course, not acknowledged in the credits roll, but the shooting evidently could not have been possible without their support.
The tram running through Ginza-dori that appears at the beginning of the movie was abolished in December 1967. The road improvement project associated with the abolishment of the tram system also involved removing the telephone poles – and the willows along with them. The granite stones used in the tram rails were reused in the pavement. Most of the stones from the times of the tram system have aged and thus have been replaced with new stones, but we can still find some of the old stones in Ginza 5-chome.
“The street has become quite bumpy from the weathered cobbles and we have asked the national road authorities to improve it.”
Despite Director Saito’s wishes, as a city tram fan, I would miss those old stones. One of these days, I will stroll down Ginza-dori, looking for old cobbles.
In October 1968 (Showa 43), the year following the abolishment of the tram system of Ginza-dori, the first “Dai Ginza Matsuri” was held to celebrate a century of history since the dawn of the Meiji period. A fan of the Crazy Cats, I clearly recall the final scene of “Crazy’s Buchamukure Daihakken” where they hop into a convertible dressed in the then fashionable military-style clothes, setting the mood of the parade. The Hokosha Tengoku (Pedestrian’s Paradise) that was launched two years later has also developed into an event symbolic of Ginza-dori.
At the end of the Showa period, during the bubble economy, Ginza was no exception in the rush to build high rise buildings. After deliberation between the Association and Chuo-ku, construction regulations known as the Ginza Rule were promulgated as a ward ordinance in 1998 (Heisei 10). I will refrain from going into details, but the Ginza Rule stipulates that buildings newly built along Ginza-dori should be no higher than 56 meters (11 stories).
The height restriction for buildings, including department stores, built after the Great Kanto Earthquake, that Torahiko Terada referred to as the “Ginza Alps” was around 31 meters; and therefore, the new rules allowed an extra 20 meters. The Ginza Rule kept the GINZA SIX, built after Matsuzakaya, to an acceptable height, although M Building had originally wanted to build a skyscraper as high as the one in Roppongi.
Having touched upon the major historical events associated with the Ginza Street Association covered in the publication of the its centennial history, I would like to mention another essence of the book. The book includes an organizational tree, “The All-Ginza Association Organigram,” according to which there are around forty district organizations in Ginza. There are thirteen Street Associations, including associations for Ginza Street, Ginza Suzuran Street, Ginza Azuma Street, Ginza Nishi Gobangai, Ginza Hanatsubaki-dori, etc., and fifteen District Associations, including associations in Ginza 1-chome, Ginza 2-chome, Ginza Nishi 1-chome, Ginza Nishi 2-chome, etc. The Ginza Official and the Ginza Hyakuten Organization are also bodies of the All-Ginza Association.
Having finished the interview at the office of the Ginza Street Association, housed in the Ginza Sanwa Building, standing next to Matsuya Ginza, I walked out to Ginza-dori. Looking for old cobbles from the old tram rails is one thing, but I should also note that last year, boulevard trees were planted along the street for the first time since the willows were taken out after the war and replaced with the shrubs that we have become used to seeing for quite a long time.
The trees planted are Katsura (Japanese Judas) trees, deciduous broadleaf trees that feature heart-shaped leaves that turn yellow in autumn. Maybe one day, people will feel so attached to them that a song that goes ♬Ginza’s Katsura …will make the hit charts.
Looking forward to the healthy growth of the Japanese Judas trees lining Ginza-dori.