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Japanese History

What does Ginza mean?

Today Ginza is the center of fashion and luxury brands in Japan, but its origin is quite humble and its fame grew over the centuries.

銀座
Ginza

(the Silver Guild; more at “the Mint”)

Ginza architecture at night
I wrote my original article on Ginza back in 2013. It was only about two paragraphs long, so I decided it was time to rewrite the whole thing in order to bring it up to modern standards[i], including 40 footnotes to enhance your reading experience. After posting this, I unpublished the original article, so this is now my official post on Ginza. To longtime readers, I hope you enjoy the update (I’m sure you won’t miss the old one); to new readers, thank you for joining the party and welcome aboard. Alright then, let’s get started!

So, What Does Ginza Mean?

In short, 銀座 Ginza refers to the seat of the shōgunate’s silver guild which minted silver coins in Edo. In contrast, nearby 日本橋 Nihonbashi was home to 金座 Kinza the gold guild which minted gold coins. Modern Ginza is one of the world’s most glamorous high-end shopping districts and is located in 東京都中央区 Tōkyō-to Chūō-ku Chūō Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis. It originally lay between 京橋 Kyōbashi, 新橋 Shinbashi, 日比谷 Hibiya, and 築地 Tsukiji, although today the area is much larger. It’s home to world famous brands like Hermes, Shiseidō, and Louis Vuitton[ii], as well as a handful of world class art galleries and luxury department stores like Wakō and Mitsukoshi. Although, technically not in Ginza, it gives leisurely access to 歌舞伎座 Kabuki-za, Japan’s premiere kabuki theater.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


gin
silver

za
seat;
guild

As you can see, the name Ginza is fairly straight forward. The silver guild was the most influential organization in this neighborhood and was active from 1603-1800. It wasn’t just home to the silver mints[iii], rather there were a variety of offices overseeing the mining, transportation, and inspection of coins. The location of this commoner town was directly in front of 数寄屋橋 Sukiyabashi a bridge that connected the island of Ginza to 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle[iv]. If you’ve ever heard of the overpriced and self-important sushi shop Sukiyabashi Jirō, its name derives from this former bridge and castle gate.

Exquisite Japanese silverwork from the Meiji Period

Ginza Was Originally a Nickname

The early days of Ginza were middle class, not glamorous. After 1584, warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi had become the dē factō ruler of Japan. He gave one of his frenemy warlords, Tokugawa Ieyasu, control of 関八州 Kanhasshū the Eight Kantō Provinces[v]. Ieyasu entered Edo in 1590, and took possession of the fixer-upper 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle (soon known as Japan’s greatest fortification, Edo Castle). In 1595, he established the gold guild in part of his new capital which he named 両替町 Ryōgae-chō, literally “money changing town.” He wanted this commoner district near the castle so his representatives could inspect the facilities of the metal workers in the area. In 1603, the imperial court granted Ieyasu the title 征夷大将軍 seii taishōgun (that’s just “shōgun” to you and me) and suddenly overnight, Edo was no longer the capital of the Eight Kantō Provinces, but the new capital of all of Japan. He temporarily moved the silver guild from his native 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province to Ryōgae-chō until development of a new island next door was complete in 1612[vi]. Now, the silver guild had its own territory on its own island between the inner and newly completed outer moat of his castle and this district was cleverly named 新両替町 Shinryōgae-chō New Ryōgae-chō[vii]. This is the name that appears on all maps until the Meiji Period (1868- 1911) when the area underwent a massive transformation. Yeah, you heard that right. Ginza’s real name is Shinryōgae-chō[viii]. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Further Reading:

Shinryogaecho (present-day Ginza ) was a shitamachi island protected by the castle’s moats. Note the street with red dots. That is the old Tokaido Highway.

Shinryōgae-chō – Artisan Town Built on a Grid

Anyone who’s ever been to Tōkyō has probably noticed a few things right off the bat. One, there are no street names[ix]. Two, the city isn’t built on a grid, but rather a chaotic and unpredictable spiral of tiny streets and alleys that often dead-end or merge in bizarre intersections. The reason for this was strategic. The shōgun wanted no beelines to his castle and government for potential invading armies from the countryside (or from the seaside). All Japanese castle towns were like this, but Edo was a castle town on steroids. They used the term 丸之内 maru no uchi inside the walls/moats[x] to designate neighborhoods like Shinryōgae-chō because they were defensible as the area could only be accessed by bridges. In fact, these early commoner districts, so vital to the shōgunate, were considered well enough protected that the government deemed it safe to lay them out in grids.

In fact, if you look at the Edo Period maps, you’ll notice a long, wide thoroughfare stretching from Nihonbashi (“the bridge to all of Japan”) to Kyōbashi (“the bridge to Kyōto”). Today, that street is called 中央通り Chūō-dōri (literally, “main street”), but in the Edo Period it was the first stretch of 東海道 Tōkaidō the Eastern Sea Route[xi], the route linking the shogun’s capital in Edo with the Emperor’s capital in Kyōto. By placing the gold mints and silver mints on extremely defensible islands with a major “national highway” running through them, these areas soon developed into hubs of pan-provincial commerce from the very beginning of Tokugawa rule in the 1600’s.

The main office of the silver guild, called 常是役所 Jōze Yakusho the Jōze Bureau, was in present-day 銀座二丁目 Ginza Nichōme Ginza 2-chōme. Managing the office was a hereditary line of the 大黒家 Daikoku-ke Daikoku clan who authorized the stamping of silver coins in the name of the shōgunate, thus making them legal tender. Coins minted and officially released into circulation by the silver guild were stamped with the words 大黒 Daikoku[xii], 常是 Jōze[xiii], or 寳 takara treasure[xiv]. So, yes, you read that right. Coins were ordered by the shōgunate, then manufactured by various metalworking houses associated with the guild, inspected for quality by the Jōze Bureau, stamped on behalf of the shōgunate by the head of that office, and finally put into circulation via the money changers on the island[xv].

Built on a grid, the area was easy to navigate for shōgunate officials as well as other local 侍 samurai and 大名 daimyō feudal lords who needed to come to Shinryōgae-chō to exchange their yearly stipends (paid in rice) for silver coins. The island’s proximity to the castle and its exclusive, local monopoly on the silver industries guaranteed its prestige right from the get-go. Yes, it was a commoner district[xvi], but the clientele was strictly upper class in the beginning. The most important national highway connecting Edo and Kyōto ran right through it, making it the one of the first stops and/or last stops for Japan’s richest merchants looking for goods made of silver.

Further Reading:

The Birth of Ginza

Yes, the official name of this area was Shinryōgae-chō, which seems like a mouthful to English speakers, but in Japanese, it’s a fairly straight-forward, unimaginative name. In the class system of the Edo Period, exchanging money was considered dirty business. This is why merchants were at the bottom of the “official view” of the caste system. Merchants and money lenders didn’t create anything for the economy, they just shifted other people’s wealth around. The silver guild, the Ginza, weren’t merchants by class. They were a collective of artisans run by families with histories running back as far as the Sengoku Period (let’s just say 1500’s for the sake of the narrative). That said, even the richest and most accomplished artisans were still commoners (non-samurai), so this area was considered 下町 shitamachi a low city district.

These silver working houses weren’t just cranking out pennies all day long. These were highly-skilled schools passing down hundreds of years of metal working techniques of the highest order – the stuff you could only learn by being born into one of these families or being adopted/married into one. When they weren’t cranking out coins every day, the artists of the area worked on all manner of silverwork while the associated offices bought and sold silver goods. For example, if a samurai needed a new 鍔 tsuba handguard for his 刀 katana sword or some other such mounting, the best place in Edo to get this kind of refined accessory would be Shinryōgae-chō. Except, it sounds cheap and below a samurai’s status to go to “New Money Changing Town,” right? Sorta like you’re looking for a check cashing/booze shop on Chicago’s South Side. No. Going to the Silver Guild, the Ginza! That sounded much better.

The neighborhood’s name really started to change to Ginza about 1715, a hundred years after the formal establishment of Shinryōgae-chō. It was that year when an elite artisan clan known by the name of the hereditary family head 後藤四郎兵衛 Gotō Shirobei moved into what is today 銀座一丁目 Ginza Icchōme Ginza 1-chōme. The Gotō clan were famed metalworkers from the Kansai region who’d risen to fame providing the best swords in Japan to the most elite members of the Imperial Court and Muromachi Shōgunate[xvii]. By the Edo Period, they were a full-on brand – the Hermes, Gucci, or Chanel of sword-making. Only the Tokugawa shōguns, their branch families, and the wealthiest daimyō could afford their products. As small silver working houses associated with the guild fought to compete with such a formidable – and for lack of a better word – fashion house, they scrambled to also produce high-end goods for the rising merchant class[xviii].

Restored Kano School paintings in the main palace of Nagoya Castle.
In the Edo Period, very few people, even elites, ever experienced such art.


Adding more prestige to the area, Ginza became home to 狩野派 Kanō-ha the Kanō School of Painting. This wasn’t a “school” where you took watercolor lessons on the weekend[xix]. While technically not a guild, it was a hereditary line of highly skilled artists who painted in a unique, Chinese-influenced style. Their works of art decorated the castles and palaces of the shōgun family and other top-ranking daimyō. Many works of the Kanō School are national treasures and if you have any familiarity with traditional Japanese art, you’ve probably seen more than a few examples of these priceless works.

However, by the middle of the Edo Period, the Ginza began changing. Some products here became accessible to the rich of any class that could afford it – not only the lordly classes. Its grid streets, cut off from the hustle and bustle of other lower, dirtier commoner districts (yet surrounded by the palaces of daimyō and as close to the shōgun’s castle as a normal Edoite could get), became a bit of an upscale shopping district. And commoners of means – maybe not enough to actually purchase items here – might put on their best 着物 kimono, make sure their hair was perfect, and stroll around the neighborhood to have a look at all the beautiful luxury goods on offer.

Ginza Owaricho

Speaking of kimono… The neighborhood at the intersection of the Tōkaidō[xx] and present day みゆき通り Miyuki-dōri Miyuki Street was known as 尾張町 Owari-chō Owari Town[xxi] which was famous for kimono shops. The most famous stores were 恵比寿屋 Ebisu-ya, 布袋屋 Hotei-ya, and 亀屋 Kame-ya. Normally, if one wanted a new kimono, you would buy the various fabrics necessary at various shops and sew it yourself or pay a “tailor” to construct it for you. These three companies innovated by selling “package deal” kimono, saving the customer time and effort by presenting themselves as one-stop-shopping alternatives. In neighboring Nihonbashi, the famous 三井越後屋 Mitsui Echigo-ya was the largest of such companies and many consider it the first department store[xxii].

Also, a number of small theaters for 能 Noh and 歌舞伎 Kabuki popped up on the island. While this could be an article unto itself, for lovers of Edo-Tōkyō, I think it’s most important to mention one of the modern named streets, 金春通り Konparu-dōri Konparu Street. The name comes from 金春流 Konparu-ha the Konparu School which was based here. This style of Noh dates back to the Muromachi Period and was one of four schools officially licensed by the shōgunate in Edo. By the late Edo Period, Noh had fallen out of favor due to the popularity of Kabuki which was far more accessible to audiences of the time. In order to sustain themselves, many Noh schools – including the Konparu School – became famous for 芸者 geisha female entertainers and conversationalists. In fact, the area where the Konparu School was located more or less devolved into a red-light district. Even to this day, you’ll notice that at night there are many high end キャバクラ kyabakura hostess clubs in this section of Ginza[xxiii] (and now you know why!). 金春芸者 Konparu Geisha are still with us today, however they are now active in Shinbashi and we call them 新橋芸者 Shinbashi Geisha. Oh, I almost forgot. 金春湯 Konparu-yu is a hot spring public bath located on Konparu-dōri. Opened in 1863 (no doubt with “services” provided by local geisha[xxiv]), this is one of the few surviving Edo Period 温泉 onsen hot springs in the city[xxv]. It’s also tattoo-friendly, which is still a bit rare in Modern Tōkyō.

This shade of blue is called “Konparu-iro” and was one of the most flashy colors in Edo (mostly associated with Ginza’s red-light district. It’s very similar to the color traditionally assigned to the Shinsengumi commanders’ uniforms. This might be one reason they were mocked in Kyoto.

I hope you get the sense that there was a lot going on in Ginza during the Edo Period besides minting silver coins. It had become a lively arts, merchant, and entertainment district. The nickname Ginza was far more popular and covered all of the island, not just the silver guild’s Shinryōgae-chō. However, in the late 1700s, a number of scandals and bribery cases made their way to the 南町奉行所 Minami Bugyō-sho South Magistrate’s Office located just across Sukiyabashi Bridge on the grounds of Edo Castle. The judges decided the silver guild’s monopoly was too strong and handed down a firm decision. In 1800, they dismantled the silver guild and moved it, ironically, to its old home in Nihonbashi, in an area known as 蛎殻町 Kakigara-chō[xxvi]. Furthermore, they tore down the main offices of the silver guild and all “corrupt houses” associated with it. The lands lay fallow until slowly commoners, mostly merchant families, were allowed to move in and build homes and shops. Businesses unconnected to the guild stayed in place but the rise of the red-light districts and theaters had brought a certain seediness to the island that it didn’t have in its heyday. The newly relocated residents of the area weren’t prestigious either. The area still had its charms, but by the end of the Edo Period, it had become a true shitamachi. The name Ginza, however, stuck.

Further Reading:

Ginza After the Collapse of the Shōgunate

The shōgunate collapsed in 1868 and 大日本帝国 Dai Nippon Teikoku the Empire of Japan was born. The new government, led nominally by 明治天皇 Meiji Tennō the Meiji Emperor, placed “modernization” at the top of its to-do-list. Furthermore, after 250 some odd years of isolation, Japan had developed an insatiable appetite for all things foreign (read: “western”) as well as a desire to prove to the western imperialist powers that she was an enlightened and equally important nation. At every opportunity, the Meiji Government contracted foreign educators, military consultants, and architects to help transform the former Tokugawa capital of Edo into the imperial capital of Tōkyō.

In 1872 (Meiji 5), a fire swept through the island and destroyed most of the traditional wooden structures there. The government now had a chance to build an up-to-date, western neighborhood to showcase to both Japanese and foreigner alike how far they had truly come from the days of samurai slitting open their bellies everywhere and beheading people willy-nilly in the streets[xxvii]. They reached out to Thomas James Waters, an Irish architect and civil planner, to help them with a massive urban development project: to rebuild and rebrand Ginza as 銀座煉瓦街 Ginza Rengagai Ginza Bricktown!

Ginza Bricktown

The government spared no expense at developing a “fireproof” town made of two-story Georgian brick buildings. Ground floors offered commercial spaces for retailers, second floors were residences with balconies that offered shade and extra frontage to the shops below while giving the inhabitants a fantastic view of the exotic, western style streets. Homes without any commercial use were also built. To us, these would have looked just like any old stupid brick building from the turn of the century. But to the Japanese, most of whom had only experienced traditional, wooden architecture with sliding doors and paper windows, it must have been a truly futuristic neighborhood. The planning team widened and straightened streets, then lined them with cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, and Japanese maples ensuring everchanging, beautiful foliage all year round. The old Tōkaidō highway, now rendered obsolete by the construction of a trainline linking Tōkyō and Kyōto, was renamed Chūō-dōri, Main Street, and even featured a street car.

Street level shops became bakeries (Japan didn’t really have bread in the Edo Period), 洋食屋 yōshoku-ya restaurants specializing in western cuisine[xxviii], 洋服屋 yōfuku-ya western clothiers (all the rage at the time), western furniture shops (Japan didn’t really have chairs, tables, and shit in the Edo Period), western clock/watch makers (Japan didn’t really have clocks in the Edo Period), etc. Even the balconies and bricks themselves were totally new in Japan. The sidewalks were also made of brick which made them flat and consistent all year round, perfect for enjoying a leisurely stroll. Remember, all the other cities in Edo – err, I mean, Tōkyō – were dirt. They could be dusty on dry days, muddy on wet days, and uneven all year round.

Ginza Bricktown early morning, shot from a balcony.
Note the mud on the brick sidewalks and lack of leaves on the willow trees.
I suspect this photo was taken after a typhoon/flood.

The government sold off the freestanding shops and the first-floor commercial spaces. However, they ran into a problem with the second-floor residences and free-standing homes. The Japanese were used to wooden homes suited to the local climate. After all, traditional homes featured sliding doors inside that could be used to reconfigure the space in different seasons to make rooms open and breezier in summer and compact and more heat-retentive in winter. Western-style houses had fixed floor plans that were hot and stifling in the humid Japanese summer and drafty in winter. Furthermore, the bricks used in all these Georgian buildings were poorly made, which meant they attracted mildew in rainy season and made the spaces dank and musty for the rest of the year, a far cry from traditional Japanese building methods. As a result, very few people bought homes in Ginza and the government never recovered all the money spent on the project[xxix].

Yet, the shops and the neighborhood itself thrived. It became so popular that about 1915 (Taishō 4) a new phrase entered the Japanese language: 銀ぶら ginbura. The phrase comes from the full 銀座でぶらぶら Ginza de bura bura “hanging out in Ginza” and means just that. Until the 1980’s, Ginza was Tōkyō’s only cutting-edge fashion district, so the term has kind of lost its “cool” factor, but it’s still widely understood and has a way “richer” connotation than ever today[xxx]. The Meiji Government may have lost big time on its initial investment in the creation of Ginza Bricktown, but their rebranding was definitely a success. It was the crowning achievement of the post-Tokugawa capital. The futuristic western shops were a hit with the people hungry for exotic foods and goods. The department stores and bazaars offered a wide selection goods unimaginable in the Edo Period. And even when the brick buildings started to look a bit dated, it was still cool to hang out in Ginza town.

The Death of Ginza Bricktown

On Saturday, September 1st, 1923 at 11:58 – just before lunch time – an M7.9 earfquake rocked eastern Japan. Today, known as 関東大地震 Kantō Daijishin the Great Kantō Earfquake, it leveled the city of Tōkyō. Ginza Bricktown may have been considered “fireproof” compared to the traditional wooden buildings that still made up most of the crowded capital, but it definitely wasn’t quake-proof. The destruction was pretty complete.

Matsu-ya Ginza 1924

In the wake of the earfquake, reconstruction of Ginza focused mostly concrete buildings typical of the 1920’s Europe and America. A new feature in the Ginza landscape opened in 1924, the department store, 松坂屋 Matsuzaka-ya[xxxi]. This prestigious retailer was originally founded 1611 in 名古屋 Nagoya and got its start providing kimono to the lords of 尾張藩 Owari Han Owari Domain[xxxii]. In 1754, they opened a branch in Kyōto, and in 1768 opened a branch in Edo’s 下谷 Shitaya district[xxxiii]. The Edo branch was so well-known that 浮世絵 ukiyo-e master, 歌川広重 Utagawa Hiroshige, immortalized it in his famous woodblock print series 名所江戸百景 Meisho Edo Hyakkei 100 Famous Views of Edo. The beautiful new Ginza shop introduced a new innovation: 土足入場 dosoku nyūjō, that is you didn’t have to take off your shoes before entering[xxxiv]. It also featured a massive aquarium in the store and small zoo on the roof!

Inside of the original Matsu-ya

Other impressive, luxury department stores soon followed, including 松屋 Matsu-ya in 1925 and 三越 Mitsukoshi in 1930 (remember, the same company that ran Mitsui Echigo-ya in Nihonbashi, mentioned above, operated Mitsukoshi). Cinemas and traditional theaters popped up in the area and Asia’s first subway, 東京地下鉄道 Tōkyō Chika Tetsudō the Tōkyō Underground Railway[xxxv], which began in 浅草 Asakusa, was extended all the way to Ginza, making the area more accessible and desirable than ever! Now being Japan’s most convenient shopping and entertainment district, the term Ginza began to spread to other parts of Tōkyō and soon to the rest of the country. Residents of the capital may recognize neighborhoods such as 谷中銀座 Yanaka Ginza or 戸越銀座 Togoshi Ginza, both of which have very different atmospheres from the real Ginza. “Ginza” equaled “cool, stylish, and convenient.”

Further Reading:

Ginza Today

In 1945, the Americans conducted a series of air raids known as the Firebombing of Tōkyō. It destroyed 16 square miles (41 km²) of the city center and killed roughly 100,000 people and left more than a million civilians homeless. Ginza did not escape the napalm bombs which leveled the posh neighborhood[xxxvi]. Post-war reconstruction efforts brought major changes to the geography of the neighborhood. Urban planners (stupidly, in my opinion) decided to fill in the old outer moats of the castle with rubble from the destroyed city and turned them into roads for automobile traffic. On the southeast side was 三十間堀川 Sanjikken Horikawa Sanjikken Moat and on the northwest side was a moat known simply as 御堀 O-hori or 御堀川 O-horikawa the shōgun’s moat[xxxvii]. Ginza was no longer an island. The river known as O-hori was unimaginatively named 外堀通り Sotobori-dōri Outer Moat Street and Ginza began to look like what it is today. And famously, in 1971, the very first McDonald’s opened in Japan – right here in Ginza!

Ginza McDonald’s on a weekend in 1973. Note the “pedestrian paradise.”

Since the post-war reconstruction, the area has become increasingly high-end, featuring the flagship shops of Japan’s and the world’s most expensive luxury brands. These shops enlist the help of the world’s most famous architects and interior designers to vie for the attention of shoppers who enjoy strolling through the area. Most conspicuous are the side streets off Chūō-dōri (ie: the old Tōkaidō highway) which on weekends are designated as 歩行者天国 hokōsha tengoku pedestrian paradises[xxxviii]. This is when automobile traffic is closed off and people can safely enjoy ginbura all day. Chairs and tables with parasols are set up for those who need to sit down and rest. If you’re a history nerd like me[xxxix], have a gander down Konparu-dōri. On that street, you can find one of the only remaining bits of Ginza Bricktown. When building in the area, workers discovered a section of the Konparu geisha house and erected it on the sidewalk to commemorate the site and the historic red-light district[xl]. Also, if you’re interested in the modern architecture or history of Ginza, I run private walking tours in Ginza and all related areas.

These days, few people think of Ginza as an historic neighborhood. The bright lights, flashy architecture, and throngs of well-dressed people are definitely front and center. And that is fun and exiting, to be sure. However, when you dip down the side streets, you can find historical plaques (usually only written in Japanese) that describe aspects of the area over the course of more than 400 years of spatial anthropology and history. Like most of Tōkyō, you can still find bits of Edo. You just need to know where to look and what you’re looking at.

Examples of Ginza Architecture

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[i] That is, more than two paragraphs lol
[ii] Among others. We’ll get to them later.
[iii] Yes, that’s “mints” in the plural. It seems that various hereditary houses specialized in the minting of different coins, unlike modern mints which oversee the minting of all coins. The reason was, each family traditionally specialized in various types of metal working. Low status families processed less valuable coins, while high status families handled the highest denominations and decorated them exquisitely as fine works of art.
[iv] Kinza, the gold guild was located in Nihonbashi and had access to the castle via 呉服橋 Gofukubashi. It’s important to note that neither of these bridges nor their fortified gates survive today. I’ll explain why later, but hint! It has to do with WWII.
[v] The Kanhasshū included Musashi, Sagami, Kazusa, Shimōsa, Awa, Kōzuke, Shimotsuke, and Hitachi provinces – literally, the entire Kantō region.
[vi] The area from Edo Bay up to present-day Ginza was a series of inlets and brackish marshes. Ieyasu’s urban planners drained the swamps and reclaimed the land and shaped new waterways into moats to defend his castle and new castle town.
[vii] Ieyasu and his urban planners weren’t the most creative when it came to new place names.
[viii] Impress your friends at parties JapanThis! style.
[ix] Well, there are very few street names. Most of those names came in or after the 1870’s when public transportation (mostly trolleys and rickshaws) required them for maps. Also, a few wide thoroughfares had nicknames that became official and over time wide “modern” streets were given names to appear, well, “modern.” That is, to appear “western.”
[x] Literally, “inside the enclosure/enceinte.” To use European castle terminology, a maru was a bailey. An area protected by walls and/or moats.
[xi] The storied Edo Period Tōkaidō was actually one of many ancient highways that took on far more significance in the Edo Period. This route existed as far back as the Heian Period, but some speculate that the Kantō stretches may date back as far as the Yayoi and possibly even Jōmon Periods.
[xii] Daikoku was the hereditary clan name of the head of the silver guild.
[xiii] Jōzei (or Jōze) was the hereditary given name of the family head of the Daikoku clan.
[xiv] Takara, usually written today as 宝 takara, simply refers to the value of the coin itself. It’s pure silver, bitch.
[xv] Which again, remember: the area wasn’t called Ginza (that was the guild), it was called Shinryōgae-chō (currency exchange town).
[xvi] That is, it no one of the samurai class lived there. But make no mistake about it, the artisans running the show here were filthy, stinking rich. Think Wall Street elite catering to regional governors and the highest-ranking local officials.
[xvii] Also known as the Ashikaga Shōgunate (1336–1573).
[xviii] The samurai class only received stipends based on the merits and rank of their ancestors from 1600, so inflation was killing them financially.
[xix] Keep in mind, there was no such thing as a weekend…
[xx] Modern day Chūō-dōri.
[xxi] Back when this area was still marshy, the shōgunate tasked Owari Domain with the land reclamation project of this stretch of land, hence the name Owari-chō.
[xxii] Mitsui Echigo-ya furthered the innovation in many ways, and eventually evolved into the Mitsui Group and Mitsukoshi Department Store.
[xxiii] There’s even a strip club in Ginza today, believe it or not! #TeamIenari
[xxiv] #TeamIenari
[xxv] The modern building dates back to 1957, so don’t expect anything crazy traditional.
[xxvi] Present day 日本橋蛎殻町二丁目 Nihonbashi Kakigara-chō 2-chōme (btw, kakigara means “oyster shell”).
[xxvii] OK, samurai weren’t just lopping off heads left and right in the Edo Period either, but they wanted to shake the “feudal” image they felt many had of them. It was a kind of self-esteem issue.
[xxviii] Let’s be honest, yōshoku is really “western food” but “western food adapted to Japanese taste.”
[xxix] I’ve heard the Meiji Government spent about 1/27th of its budget on developing Ginza. That’s not the Tōkyō Government, but the national government!
[xxx] These days, in order to compete with alternate rising fashion districts like 渋谷 Shibuya, 原宿 Harajuku, 青山 Aoyama, 表参道 Omotesandō, 新宿 Shinjuku and other hip places to hang out like 秋葉原 Akihabara, 中野 Nakano, and 吉祥寺 Kichijōji, Ginza has rebranded itself as the luxury brand center of Japan – if not of all Asia – which has breathed new life into the phrase ginbura.
[xxxi] By the way, while today department stores are generally called デパート depāto, the native Japanese word used at the time was 百貨店 hyakkaten a shop with hundreds of goods.
[xxxii] A branch of the Tokugawa clan.
[xxxiii] Specifically, the 上野広小路 Ueno Hirokōji.
[xxxiv] Prior to this, it was customary to take off your ‘outdoor shoes’ and walk around in your 足袋 tabi socks or wear slippers inside (each shop was different).
[xxxv] The Tōkyō Underground Railroad was renamed 銀座線 Ginza-sen the Ginza Line in 1953.
[xxxvi] At the time, Ginza was the most expensive neighborhood to rent/buy property in all of Japan.
[xxxvii] On the small sides of the islands were 京橋川 Kyōbashi-gawa Kyōbashi River and another stretch known simply as O-hori (the shōgun’s moat) or 芝堀川 Shiba Horikawa Shiba Moat.
[xxxviii] Tōkyōites affectionately abbreviate this as 歩行天 hokōten.
[xxxix] And presumably you are if you’ve ready always to this point.
[xl] A section of the original brick sidewalk was also discovered, and that is now on display in the permanent collection of the 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum in 両国 Ryōgoku.

9 replies on “What does Ginza mean?”

Long time reader first time commenter. Thank you for all your fascinating articles. My husband and I planned a 2020 trip to Japan, but things aren’t working out.

Two years ago, my in-laws took a walking architecture tour of Ginza. Dad is a retired architect and loved it. Mom loves more traditional stuff.

By chance do you give architecture walking tours of Ginza? We want to come in 2021 or 2023 if it’s safe to travel again.

Many thanks for all your insights. You’re passion for Tokyo is infectious!

Awww, thank you for the kind words! I really appreciate it. And I’m sorry that no one could visit Japan this year. It’s devastating.

As for an architecture tour of Ginza, yes! I do give walking tours of the area. It mostly focuses on modern architecture and design, but I can customize any tour. If you’re interested in traditional architecture, I’m more than happy to include that. It’s actually more of my strong suit, anyways

Here’s the link. You can book or contact me directly through this:

https://japanthis.tours/tokyo-architecture-tour/

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