When it comes to class, no other neighborhood in Tokyo can beat Ginza. Not only is it the center of high-end retail shopping, but it is also where the latest trends from the world over converge with timeless traditions. Whether it’s fashion, art, or cuisine, what you will witness is the result of impeccable taste. To make sure that you arrive at this experience when traveling to Ginza, here’s a guide on what to do and what to check out in the area:
Visit Ginza’s top sightseeing spots
1. Visit Ginza Yon-chome Intersection
The best introduction to Ginza is the Ginza Yon-chome intersection. Here, you can find the area’s iconic landmark – the Ginza Wako Department Store building and its famous clocktower. Built in 1932, its facade exudes a very western style of architecture from the yesteryears, while inside, it is home to some of Japan’s long-standing merchants selling fine jewelry, porcelain, crystal, as well as fashion-related items.
Directly across Ginza Wako is a branch of Mitsukoshi Department Store. It is likewise a prestigious retail giant in Japan with the chain credited as the first and oldest surviving department store in the country. Founded in 1673, its historic flagship store is located in the nearby Nihonbashi area.
Ginza Wako: http://www.wako.co.jp/en/
Mitsukoshi Department Store: http://mitsukoshi.mistore.jp.e.bm.hp.transer.com/store/ginza/index.html
2. Visit Ginza Chuo-Dori on a weekend
Ginza’s main thoroughfare Chuo-Dori is a pedestrian paradise on weekends. From 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM, its 1.1 km stretch is closed to traffic to give way to shoppers who are making their rounds of the malls and boutiques that line the area. Pop-up cafés are also set-up on the streets during this time, which makes for a great resting area and a nice spot to people-watch.
3. Relax at Hamarikyu Gardens
Hamarikyu Gardens is an urban oasis that offers locals and tourists a nice break from the city’s concrete and ever-bustling atmosphere. Its natural landscape is determined by the seasons as it stands prettily against a backdrop of Tokyo’s buildings. Among its nicest features is the teahouse found in the middle of the lake, where you can accompany the relaxing view with a calming sip of matcha tea.
Hamarikyu Gardens: http://teien.tokyo-park.or.jp/en/hama-rikyu/
Make a fashion statement
4. Indulge in luxurious brands
The who’s who of the local and international fashion scene can all be found in Ginza. Showrooms and flagship stores of different labels are commonplace, with each one competing to dazzle the city’s most discerning customers. The majority of these brands occupy the buildings that line Chuo-Dori, and they won’t be hard to miss because of their eye-catching large signages and impressive storefront designs.
5. Shop until you drop
While the luxury brands still dominate the area, recent years saw the rise in the number of more mainstream players opening a shop here. For instance, Japan’s clothing giant Uniqlo is a force to be reckoned with along Chuo-Dori. Its presence is unmissable with its 12-floor flagship store. Foreigners on the hunt for duty-free bargains will also be delighted to know that Laox’s biggest branch is also located here. It is basically a large-format multi-category store featuring the best Japanese products from health and beauty items to electronics and homewares.
6. Get a beauty makeover at Shiseido Ginza
Besides selling their popular cosmetics line, Shiseido’s flagship store in Ginza is a 3-floor beauty center divided into various zones. It has lounges for personalized beauty consultations, a product trial area, hair & make-up salons, and even a photo studio. The goal is to help women discover their own personal aesthetic by using the right tools and equipping them with expert knowledge.
Shiseido The Ginza: http://stg.shiseido.co.jp/language/en/
7. Shopping for the gentlemen at Hankyu MEN’S Department Store
Boutiques that specialize in men’s fashion needs are nothing new, but rarely do you a shopping complex exclusively catering to them. In Ginza however, the gentlemen get special treatment by conveniently bringing together 9 floors worth of men’s brands, products, and services. From custom-made suits to eyeglasses, fashionable males will get to have endless choices to make them look more dapper and feel more confident.
Hankyu Men’s Tokyo: http://www.hankyu-dept.co.jp/mens-tokyo/english/
Dine and drink at Tokyo’s top restaurants
8. Hunt for Michelin stars
Just as the fashion finds in Ginza are top-notch, dining options are equally exquisite. This neighborhood is a hot spot for swanky restaurants serving a wide range of local and international flavors. Fans of Japanese cuisine are strongly recommended to try out Kaiseki dining places such as Ginza Kojyu, whereas other cuisines like French, Italian, Mediterranean, and so on will most likely have a representative restaurant that serves them. As a center of fine dining, it is no surprise that a good number of Tokyo’s Michelin-starred and Bib Gourmand rated places like Esquisse and Dominique Bouchet have established kitchens in this area. So if you’re a foodie and your hobby is to check out the entries off this famed list, better prepare your tummy and wallet for the most luxurious feasts.
9. Eat premium sushi
Still, on the topic of fine dining, it is particularly noteworthy that Ginza has a high concentration of the city’s highest-rated and most premium sushi bars. Sukiyabashi Jiro, Sawada, and Sushi Kanesaka are among the most notable sushi joints in the area. They are also the most expensive, most exclusive, and hardest to book. If you want a seat in any of these establishments, you’ll most likely need the help of a local to get reservation months ahead of your planned visit.
Voyagin offers a reservation service for the famous sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro and another well-known restaurant Ginza Kyubey. The sushi place and the sushi chef Jiro became famous from the film "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". Use this plan to secure your reservation to the restaurants! Check out Voyagin's website to find out details.Reserve Sukiyabashi Jiro Dinner (View at Voyagin) Reserve Sushi Ginza Kyubey (View at Voyagin)
10. Sample traditional Japanese confectionery Wagashi at Toraya Ginza
For dessert, you might want to try traditional Japanese confectionery called Wagashi. There are several Wagashi shops and cafés in Ginza, but among all these, you must certainly drop by Toraya. This confectioner has been serving Japanese royalties and the masses sweet treats since early 16th century. This Ginza shop has a second-floor tea room for dine-in guests, and if you also happen to swing by Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi, their branch there has an exhibition of their products over the past five centuries.
Toraya Ginza: https://www.toraya-group.co.jp/english/
11. Unwind at a bar in Ginza
As the day gives way to the night, Ginza offers visitors a number of ways to unwind over a couple of drinks. Small and secluded bars occupy the side streets and back alleys, and those in the know will most likely recommend either Lupin or Rockfish. Lupin is an institution in the Ginza night scene having serving drinks to Tokyo’s most interesting bunch of artists, writers, intellectuals, and regulars since 1928. Rockfish, on the other hand, don’t share the same historical pedigree as Lupin, but its highball drinks have earned it its legendary status among the drinking crowd.
Those who are aiming for a more social environment will enjoy the cheery atmosphere at Ginza Lion Beer Hall, while wine enthusiasts can marvel at Dazzle’s open display of over 2,000 bottles to suit any occasion.
Bar Lupin Ginza: http://www.lupin.co.jp (Japanese only)
Rockfish: https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1301/A130103/13014418/ (Japanese only)
Lion Beer Hall: http://www.ginzalion.jp/shop/search/area01_ginza.html (Japanese only)
Soak in arts and crafts
12. Visit art galleries in Ginza
Another way to enjoy Ginza is to take a peek into its thriving art scene. This area has countless galleries that exhibit paintings and mixed media installations. Perhaps the best way to start your art excursion is to visit Okuno Building – an apartment complex built in 1932, which is now home to some 20-50 galleries and artisan shops. Its atmosphere is decidedly nostalgic and adding further to its retro vibe is the building’s manually-operated lift, said to be the oldest in the city.
Okuno Building: http://306project.web.fc2.com/eg-home.htm
13. Scour for traditional craft finds
On the lookout for cool souvenirs? You can’t go wrong with going to a crafts shop like Takumi. It has a huge collection of articles from different parts of Japan. They’ve got display pieces, toys, ceramics, textiles, and everyday use stuff. Each item comes with information detailing its origins, thus making a purchase even more interesting.
Alternatively, you can go through the selections at numerous specialty shops like Natsuno (for chopsticks) or Kyukyodo (for incense) found all over Ginza.
14. Shop for art supplies
Those who are more inclined to make art rather than buying them will find their own piece of heaven in Gekkoso and Itoya. These two art and stationery supplies stores are revered by the city’s artsy folks, where pretty much everything you’ll need to finish that masterpiece is sold.
15. Appreciate Bonsai art
Instead of paintings, Uchikuan’s gallery showcases miniature trees popularly known as Bonsai. The display is quite impressive as it includes centuries-old masterpieces, and for the enthusiasts, there are pieces available for purchase, as well as books and equipment related to growing these carefully-tended potted plants.
Ginza Uchikuan: http://www.bonsai-uchikuan.com (Japanese only)
Experience something unique to Japan
16. Make your first-ever kimono purchase
Buying a kimono is as complicated as picking out an evening gown. They are quite an investment, so choosing the right one for you will most definitely take time. In Ginza, you can opt to visit ateliers like Marumado Yaya who sells antique kimonos brought in from Kyoto. For something more personalized, Echigoya should be your top pick. This company has been creating custom-crafted kimonos since 1755.
17. Join the annual Yukata De Ginbura Festival in summer
Yukata de Ginbura Festival is an annual summer event where people are encouraged to come to Ginza donning Yukatas or casual kimonos. Usually held on a Sunday in August, the festivities include family-friendly activities, street performances, and exhibits staged along Ginza-Dori. The highlight of the day is the Uchimizu ceremony where buckets of water are splashed onto the pavement as a way of cooling down and beating the summer heat.
18. Catch a traditional Japanese theater performance Kabuki
Kabukiza Theater is Japan’s most famous and grandest Kabuki stage. This classical performance art form is a dance-drama production that dates back to the 17th century characterized by its elaborate use of costumes, make-up, and dynamic stage sets to accompany the actors’ exaggerated movements. The stories are based on Edo-period characters covering the topics of love, the life of a samurai, or slice of life material. Each play is particularly lengthy lasting about 4-5 hours, but since it is divided into several acts, those who just want to witness a short program do have the option to buy a single act ticket.
Kabukiza Theater: http://www.kabuki-bito.jp/eng/contents/theatre/kabukiza.html
If you are interested in watching Kabuki shows, Voyagin offers a tour to watch Kabuki shows with English captioning device and walk around Giza. You will get to watch Kabuki, see and shop in Ginza, and learn the history of Ginza. Check out Voyagin's website to find out details.Enjoy Kabuki and Japanese Traditional Culture in Ginza
19. Witness the fish auction at Tsukiji Fish Market
This one is for the early risers. The famed tuna auction at Tokyo’s largest wholesale market happens every day at 5:30 AM, but the queuing starts way earlier. Entry is first come first served, and the number of onlookers entertained is limited to only 120 per day. Before heading out, best to check their website first and see if there is an auction scheduled for that day.
Tsukiji Market: http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm
20. Wash up at a public bath Sento Konparuyu
In some other parts of the world, the idea of communal bathing is rather unusual so for many travelers to Japan, trying out an onsen or a sento is part of their to-do list. Onsen and Sento are both public bathhouses and the main difference between the two is that the former uses hot spring water from nearby mountains. In the central Tokyo, you are most likely to find a Sento than an Onsen, though the number of establishments has generally declined over the years with urbanization. Ginza’s Konparu is one of the few bathhouses that has so far survived. It’s been in business since 1863, and the place itself is very nostalgic-looking with its classic mosaic walls.
Konparu: http://www002.upp.so-net.ne.jp/konparu/ (Japanese only)
Thumbnail picture is from Flickr.