Japan is considered to be one of the richest countries in the world; yet overt displays of prosperity and monetary status are not very common in its society. Luxury, where you can see it, is understated, and not an attention grabber like it is the Middle East (for instance). In this context, Ginza (銀座), with its glitz and shiny window displays is a true exception from the above observation. It bears a natural resemblance to Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue where the streets are lined up with flagship stores of almost every premium brand known to Earth.The omnipresent Louis Vuitton has claimed its spot not only on Chūō-dori with what looks like an identical twin of its gorgeous Manhattan store, but also in the hands of a considerable number of Japanese ladies, who carried the brand’s rather expensive handbags around Ginza.Tiffany & Co, along with Harry Winston, two of world’s most recognizable jewelry retailers, are also here. Tokyo has joined the ranks of cities where one could walk around town with a signature blue Tiffany bag in hand. For the few of you that don’t know that yet: the Tiffany bag is famous for both its registered trademark color (the so called ‘tiffany blue‘) and the fact that it is most desirable when it comes in the smallest size.The similarity between Fifth Avenue and Ginza is not accidental, neither is its underlined Western appearance. During 19th century, this region of Tokyo was planned and developed as a model of modernization, with better streets connecting the nearby Shimbashi station and important government buildings. It flourished since as a symbol of civilization and enlightenment thanks to the presence of the newspapers and magazine companies there, who led the trends of the day.
Unlike Fifth Avenue though, Ginza encompasses a whole district rather than a single street. While the majority of the high end stores are located along Chūō-dori, the rest of Ginza is too nothing short of pretty, polished and eye-catching.We were walking down the streets of Ginza (coming from Imperial Palace East Gardens) and the beautiful sunflower display in the picture above caught my attention right away. I must have ‘a thing’ for the color yellow, as my eyes were next drawn to the sign in the picture below. A little confession from me: while I have a genuine appreciation for gorgeous handbags, I would trade them any day for a photo bag full of Nikon. We didn’t go inside ‘ Nikon House’, but we could not resist making a detour to Sony’s multi-level flagship store. By ‘multi-level’ I mean having ten or so floors; not an unusual occurrence in Tokyo. The chronic shortage of available land in the city is most obvious in the architecture of some buildings: with narrow and shallow bases, standing tall and thin like towers several levels above/below the ground.
We enjoyed Sony’s store, particularly the floor dedicated to photo and video equipment. We were most impressed by the array of beautifully designed and incredibly functional point and shoot cameras in models most of which we had never seen before. Unfortunately, they came out to be too expensive, due to the unfavorable relationship between the yen and the US dollar. We also had fun playing around with a 3D video camera, a rather interesting experience. I imagine shooting in 3D would end up being the norm five years or so down the road.Ginza is a popular spot on weekends when some parts of it (including Chūō-dori) turn into a pedestrians’ paradise: each Saturday from 2pm to 5pm and Sunday from 12pm to 5pm (or 6pm during the summer). In order to fully experience the area, I had carefully planned our Tokyo itinerary so that our visit coincided with the street closures. Indeed, it was quite engaging to observe how the people, normally confined to either sidewalk, were now seemingly randomly crisscrossing the streets as if they had no particular destination in mind. You can tell from the pictures that we spent most of our time walking around people-watching and didn’t do much shopping. In fact we did none. This has a lot to do with the fact that we live in the US, where high end merchandise is generally priced lower and it just doesn’t make financial sense to buy such goods while travelling abroad.
Before I carry on, I will post one of japan-guide.com excellent maps, which helped me tremendously in planning the routes we took while sightseeing in Tokyo.
The next and final stop of our Sunday walk around Tokyo was going to be the Eiffel Tower inspired Tokyo Tower, located about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from central Ginza. I had planned for us to be there just in time for the sunset, as I had read the views from atop were spectacular. Unfortunately, I didn’t make an effort to remember the route; I thought the 332m tall structure should have been easy to spot from afar. So mistaken. I knew the general direction which we needed to follow, nevertheless we quickly got lost in the maze of Shimbashi’s (新橋) dark and narrow back alleys.
Meanwhile, the sun had sailed west and we were approaching dinner-time. We had gone from ‘a bit’ hungry to ‘really’ hungry and were on the look-out for a place to grab something to eat. I had ‘Subway’ in mind, afterall we did see one in Ginza, but we found nothing similar… There was a choice, however, of dimly-lit tiny Japanese restaurants (sake bars?), particularly in the area under Shimbashi railway; such as the ones in the photos below (I snapped these in Ginza)Some of the places had hosts who were invitingly striking conversations with the few passersby. Noone ever approached us. The hosts’ indifference to our existence was not surprising considering we looked like lost tourists with a bulky stroller, that could easily occupy 1/4 of the restaurant. I am not saying there was some widespread disdain towards tourists for I believe it mostly had to do with the fact that the hosts were not comfortable addressing us in any other language but Japanese. We, too, felt uneasy about going inside. Miss Z. was not at her best behavior and we didn’t want to ruin the intimate atmosphere seeping through the windows. The language barrier existed on our end as well; we had not idea what was written on the menu and did not expect anyone to be able to translate it for us in English.
We were roaming around the empty streets of Shimbashi when we finally came across an establishment we felt comfortable walking into: the Family Mart, a convenience store similar to 7 Eleven. We accomplished the following: ate chocolate (little we knew then that ‘chocolate for dinner’ would become a routine for us on that trip), threw the garbage we had been collecting in our stroller throughout the day and got directions to Tokyo Tower. Since this posting is getting too long already, I’d save for later my musings about the ‘trash can’ situation in Tokyo…
Fortunately, it turned out we were just around the corner from Tokyo Tower…relatively speaking. Because of its height the orange-whitish structure appeared to be much closer than it actually was. We walked for another kilometer until we reached the little park across the street from the Tower, in which by the way, there were plenty of benches. One of them served as a temporary bed for a homeless man.
But we stumbled just before reaching our destination, literally… Miss Z’s anger was escalating throughout the evening and she was now officially mad at the whole world. We were hungry and dis-energized, with legs and feet sore from walking the long distances. At that very moment, we found ourselves standing in front of an overpass and a mountain of stairs, which we had to climb up bent under the weight of the heavy stroller…yes, Tokyo was not very friendly to those with impaired mobility. That would explain the unusually high number of small children in baby carriers and the unusually low number of strollers.We made an attempt to go up the stairs, but after Hubs accidentally dropped the handles of the stroller, he refused to go any further. Defeated, we turned around at the very base of Tokyo Tower and went the opposite way to JR’s Hamamatsucho station, where the train to Shinjuku was going to take us back to our hotel.