A lot of foreigners have noticed the hugely popular white dog maskot of the popular cell phone company Softbank here in Japan. Their store in Ginza had this one in front the last time I walked past. Incidentally, that store is a good place to go get your Japanese phone sim cards if you are a tourist with a hankering for net access.
A lot of people assume that Japan invented the super cute characters but although they do excel at it today, there were quite a few early inspirations for Japan and some of them are of nearly legendary status by now. One of the most famous characters in Japan would be Miffy, the little rabbit created by Dick Bruna in the Netherlands 60 years ago. To celebrate the little Rabbit reaching the very advance middle aged stage, the equally famous Mitsukoshi Department store put on a Miffy art exhibition, and they also took the opportunity to play a little with the departments store exterio. Can you spot Miffy?
The exhibition is now over here in Tokyo but apparently on its way to Aomori Prefecture in the North of Japan, should you be a Miffy fan in the area!
Cafe culture started in Japan in 1911, when a few cafes opened up in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district. Of these the oldest still in operation is the Cafe Paulista (Paulista coming from Sao Paulo in Brazil), which opened in December 1911 operating under a peculiar 12 year contract of free shipments of coffee beans from the Brazilian government in order to spread coffee drinking in Japan. When the great earthquake of 1923 hit Tokyo and the destroyed the cafe at the same time as the free coffee agreement ended the management withdrew from the cafe business. It reopened in 1969 and moved to its present location on one of the main streets of Ginza in 1970. John Lennon and Yoko Ono both visited the cafe in 1969, according to legend. In 2003 there was a bit of flurry when records were discovered in Osaka City of a cafe having opened there in June 1911, but nothing remains of that cafe so even if Cafe Paulista wasn’t the first they certainly are the oldest.
Today the Cafe Paulista is stuck in a peculiar time warp as the building it is located in is quite new while the cafe seems not to have changed one bit since 1970, all the while they are promoting their 1911 heritage! When I visited I found the coffee to be good and the seats comfortable and I think I was lucky to get a seat at all.
Another interesting fact for fans of older literature is the word (verb) “Ginbura” (銀ブラ), which is a short combination of the two words Ginza and Brazil and came to mean “to go to a cafe”, similar as about 15 years ago the word “Sutabasuru” (スタバする) came to mean to go Starbucks. You will find the word Ginbura in books from the 1910s and 1920s. Or maybe not! See the comment section if you are a fan of etymology.
I took these while walking around in Ginza during the blue hour, just after sunset but before it gets completely dark. My favorite time of the day as a photographer! In the last few years there seems to be a lot new construction in Ginza, not least fueled by demand due to economical boost of the cheaper yen and a richer China. These days there seems to be as many Chinese tourists in Ginza as domestic tourists and locals. Ginza is also one of the least populated neighborhoods in Chuo ward, only 3523 people live on the 0.87 square kilometers with most of the area devoted to office buildings and retail.
Sometimes holes open up in the urban landscape, like in the first photo where the Nissan building used to be. Not a very old building at all, but since this street crossing is one of the most valuable real estate locations in the world it makes sense to cram as much floorspace as possible into it. It will be interesting to see what will replace it!
The last photo too is one of these holes, where the old Matsuzakaya department store used to be. I blogged about the closing in 2013.