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.
Walking around in Ginza one late afternoon I spotted this funny looking window decoration, mannequins ensnared by a chameleon! This particular street crossing is one of the most interesting for window shoppers or professional decorators everywhere, never have I seen so many and such elaborate or expensive decorations in one spot. Any designer, decorator, shop manager or merchandiser would do well to take monthly walks along this street. For more examples of window decorations in Tokyo, just use the tags at the end of the post!
More photos from Ginza, a month or so ago, after the rain but minutes before sunset when the sky is the most beautiful. Ginza is easily one of the most walkable areas in Japan. There are subway stops just about everywhere, you are never more than a block away from a cafe or restaurant and the sidewalks are huge by Japanese standards. Most of the building are clad in glass and reflect the light from the sky beautifully.
According to the latest statistics, 3484 people lived in Ginza as of April 2014, which is a substantial increase since 1998 when only 2963 persons called Ginza home. The secret is the decade and half long residential building boom that has changed the face of much of central Tokyo, reversing a long population decline that saw people move out of of the city center and into neighboring prefectures and cities. You can feel this change most vividly if you are out in central Tokyo after dark or if you try to ride a bicycle on crowded city sidewalks, there are just much more people out and about!
While far from the heights reached in the Bubble Economy days of the 1980s, land prices in Ginza is still astronomical, just in these photos you can see a fair share of the highest priced plots of land in the world.
About a month ago I was in Ginza, coming out into the streets just a few minutes after a heavy rain was finally about finish up. I love walking in the city after a rain. The streets are clean, the air is clean and there are fewer people on the sidewalks. Perfect conditions for a brisk walk! The skies are more interesting as well. When I was a kid I remember reading about Japan on the first page of our geography textbook, and the first image I saw of a modern Japanese city was a photo of Ginza after the rain. That image has stayed with my mind and to this day I always feel something extra when I find myself actually walking the streets of Ginza. I guess this is how you feel when you see a movie star in real life!