Ginza is known for money, riches, luxury brands and high fashion, it is a city in the city for people who have wealth or who like to spend it. Ginza has always been associated with money, even the name Ginza comes from licensed coin minting operation in the area back in the Edo period of Japan (in this case it was established in 1612). In the 1870a Ginza was one of the first areas of Japan to get western style brick buildings as a way of attracting investment and showing of Japan’s newfound sense of modernity. But what happens when former luxury houses grow old? As times and fashions move on the buildings remain standing and although most of them are torn down, the second oldest building in Ginza, the Okuno Building remains standing. Constructed in 1932 as a luxury apartment complex the building survived World War II and the building boom of the 1980s it is now one of the oldest apartment buildings in the country, the oldest in Ginza and the second oldest building in Ginza overall (the oldest is the Daiichi Ginza Biru, 第一銀緑ビル, constructed in 1924). Up until a few years ago there were almost identical buildings in Harajuku and Ueno but they have gone under the wrecking ball. In 1932 it was still extremely unusual to have people living in western style concrete buildings. These days the former apartments and shops have been converted to about 50 working galleries, artist’s studios and small artisan shops.
The interior matches the exterior perfectly and is wonderfully old, rusty and worn down. Flaking paint, bent railings, deep ruts worn into the concrete floor, it looks more like an abandoned ghost complex than a working building. During weekdays and weekends there’s a steady stream of people coming in and out of the building. With so many galleries there is an opening almost every day and new and old artists mix and meet in the narrow corridors. Some galleries are modern and ultra-hip, using high tech and the showing the latest fashions, others look more like your old Granny’s collection of antique toys. You are never likely to be able to visit all the galleries but there’s always enough of them open to make it worthwhile to visit the building.
Even the elevator is an original working antique and manually operated meaning that you have to close and open the doors by yourself. There are stern warnings to not forget to close the doors after you leave. You don’t see many elevators like this any more and most people I saw entering the building took one look at it and then opted for the stairs. Me included.
I hope to go back soon and get better photos, but for now, here are the (scary looking) interior corridors and stairs. It feels like going on urban ruin safari even though the building is still functioning and in the middle of the most expensive shopping district in the world! I would love to meet someone who actually experienced living in this building! The address to this building is Ginza 1−9−8 and the best subway exit is Ginza Itchome Station, Exit 10.
In case you wondered about the omikoshi you see at festivals throughout Japan, they usually weigh about a ton each, but there is one truly gigantic omikoshi here in Tokyo. This is the fearsome beast of a shrine, weighing in at four and half ton, I can’t even begin to imagine how it would be handled. I took this photo of it earlier today at the Tomioka Hachimangu Grand Shrine in Tokyo’s Monzennakacho district. You can see this omikoshi in operation only once every three years, and I believe this chance is tomorrow! So if you are in Tokyo, here’s a grand way to spend your Sunday!
Once every three years the grand Tomioka Hachimangu in Tokyo’s Monzennakacho hosts the massive Fukagawahachiman Matsuri (深川八幡祭り), or as it is known in Tokyo, the water festival. It actually runs every year but once every three years it more than doubles in size growing from massive to truly enormous! Although it already started on Wednesday this week there is still a lot of things going on, not least a chance to the biggest omikoshi in Japan, a truly massive and awe inspiring hulk of a portable shrine. I made a quick visit last night to enjoy the festival atmosphere and it seemed as promising as usual! If you are in Tokyo right now and tomorrow Sunday, there’s is no reason not to go and see this festival!
You can see my posts from the last Fukagawahachiman Matsuri I visited here:
Kamishibai (紙芝居) is an old Japanese form of entertainment in which a story is told by a narrator showing colored paper sheets while telling a story to an audience. It first started in temples in the 12th century where monks and nuns would use picture scrolls to tell religious stories to their local parish members. Later professional story tellers would travel around the country first on foot and later by bicycle with their wooden boxes and story cards. In the recession of the 1920s the tradition surged in popularity as it was a very easy business to get into and allowed unemployed men a chance to earn at least enough money not to starve to death.
The stories told by the Kamishibai narrators were often serialized so that each time they visited a place they could keep telling a story from the point where they stopped last time, like modern day TV drama or comic book! People would be eager to hear the latest chapter in their favorite characters and it was easy for the narrators to adapt to what audiences enjoyed, instant feedback that today’s TV producers can only dream of. One of the first nationwide stories was about one of (if not the first) real superheroes, “Ogon Bat” (or Golden Bat) which was introduced in 1930, quite a few years before Superman or Batman. Ogon Bat had all the things we associate with super heroes today: he fought evil, had a super villain arch enemy, a cape, dressed in tights and had a background story to explain his amazing powers and invulnerability and he has a secret super hero base in the mountains. When he is called upon by a woman in distress, he sets forth to battle evil where it occurs.
Ogon Bat was a God of Justice from the ancient island of Atlantis who was put in suspended animation by the ancient Egyptians when Atlantis was submerged, with the goal of awakening him in the future when his powers would be most needed. His sarcophagus and sleeping body is discovered by a Japanese egyptologists, Dr Yamatone and his assistant, his daughter Marie. In the tomb they are attacked by the evil Mazo and in the struggle the tears of Marie fall on the sleeping body of Ogon Bat, waking him up to once again fight for justice.
Originally Ogon Bat looked quite scary, with a white-golden skull shaped head, a flamboyant costume with a large cape and collar carrying a spanish rapier. His image was later made a little more kid-friendly though, and the rapier was changed into a scepter. Ogon Bat could fly, was invulnerable just like Superman and had his base in Japan, as he followed his friends the Yamatone family back to Japan from Egypt. Terrific story! Ogon Bat was later to become both regular manga, trading cards and even an animated series and a movie in the 1960s. As American entertainment industry has done so many times before in everything from Westerns to Star Wars to Godzilla, I think the time is ripe to dust off this great old superhero!
But back to the Kamishibai. To this day you can sometimes see modern Kamishibai performers at festivals and in parks, mostly on the weekends, entertaining kids and adults. They often sell candy and accept donations for their storytelling. I doubt there are any people living only on Kamishibai these days, but a little money always helps to keep these old traditions alive! I have blogged about Kamishibai before, in Yokohama. In the comments to that blog post there was a link to a photo of this man who narrates comic books from his portable library to anyone willing to listen. I mention this because I ran into the very same man in Shimokitazawa last Sunday in mid-story. If you don’t know what he is doing it is most likely you will mistake him for a lunatic but he is in fact very entertaining.
I saw this Kamishibai artist, one of the most famous in Tokyo at this year’s Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa back in May. Here he is telling the story of Ogon Bat (黄金バット)!
Kamishibai in Asakusa by Tokyobling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.