Diving into the human river that flows into the upscale, most glamorous shopping area of Tokyo, the Ginza district, for the first time is almost overwhelming. Daytime teems with an assortment of well-dressed, middle-aged Japanese, young people with counter-culture style, and gaijins (rough translation: foreign barbarians) such as myself gawking at the tall buildings and wondering where to go and what to partake of first.
For me, the experience of seeing the Ginza can only be compared to visiting such U.S. icons as the Las Vegas Boulevard or New York's Broadway. It's truly a site to behold during the day, but at night, the Ginza comes alive with a cacophony of colors, lights and sounds that has to be experienced at least once during a stay in Japan.
Not only shopaholics can enjoy it, even those who hate to shop, like our website guru, Adam, can find it intriguing. It's a cultural experience not to be missed, so let's take a look at what is in the district itself, and a couple of spots within a short distance of the Ginza.
The Ginza District was named that when the Japanese government moved the silver mint to the area: "gin" means silver and "za" means guild. Now it's more like the gold district, as the 1.5 mile shopping area has the most expensive land prices in Tokyo, the city of sky-high land prices. The Ginza is also home to some of the most exclusive and pricey stores in the country. From mid-day to sunset on Sundays, the central part of Ginza is closed to vehicles and pedestrians take over the oddly serene streets to shop their hearts out.
Where do they shop? At some of the most prestigious international fashion stores and upscale department stores literally from A to Z, featuring French, Italian and American fashions—and nearly everything in between. Following are some specific stores to entice you: Adidas, Armani, Barney's, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Coach, Dior, Gucci, Lavin, Louis Vuitton, Mt. Blanc, Opaque (also has a restaurant), Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Tiffany and Co. and Zara.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when in Japan's famous Ginza district, stopping by some of the Japanese stores is almost a requirement. They include:
Again featuring Italian, French and other international fashion hot spots, jewelry and luxury goods stores include: Bvlgari, Cartier, Chanel, Chaumet, Furia, Hermes, Mikimoto, and VanCleef and Arpels.
Technology fans will find the flagship Apple store (yes, the same Apple that we know and love) prominently positioned at the Ginza.
Joining that is the Bic camera store that sells a variety of electronic items (and cameras) and Muji and Sefmap, another electronics retailer. The early adopters' paradise reveals products that won't be found in the U.S. until years down the road.
There is a skin care and makeup store, Franci, which is joined by Shiseido's three floors of beauty salons. Itoya offers writing instruments of all kinds.
That wraps up a quick tour of shopping opportunities but doesn't even mention the numerous restaurants. You're on your own there. If your credit cards are maxed out after shopping, opt for a bakery or café for an inexpensive bite to eat. Let's move on to check out the royal family's residence.
The Imperial Palace, called Kokyo, is located in the Chiyoda district and is close to the Ginza district. It's worth a visit, as it is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan and the former site of Edo Castle. You may already know that Tokyo used to be called Edo. The palace is surrounded by parks with moats and massive stone walls that used to be part of Edo Palace. Wealthy sponsors built those walls then engraved their marks on some blocks to show that they'd contributed—like the Donald Trumps of the Far East? No, not really. Those marks are way smaller than his.
You can still see those marks today when you tour the gardens, which are open to the public. Here are some tips for touring the grounds:
It's hard to imagine any scene so different from the Imperial Palace than the Tsukiji Market. If you're willing to get up in the middle of the night, you might enjoy a visit to the market in Chuyo that is famous for its fish auction. Here are some tips for the intrepid travelers among us:
Almost before the auction begins, it's over. Don't blink or go for coffee at the wrong time or you just may miss it. If and when you see the auction, you may wonder why on earth you got up that early and waited that long for such a short event.
But wait, there's more. The outer area of the market is crammed with small stands and little spots to get almost anything you want to eat. By this time, you'll be ready for a steaming bowl of udon noodles or in the mood for trying some of the fresh seafood. When you've satisfied your hunger, you can check out the souvenir shops around the outer area.
After your stomach is full and you've bought the perfect gift for the one back home, you think of how you'll enjoy looking at your photos after you get back from your trip. You'll remember the good parts, forget the agonizing early wakeup call and forgive yourself for having to throw away your fishy-smelling shoes. You didn't wear your boots, did you? Tsk, tsk.Previous: Peering Into the Future with Anime