While Shibuya and Harajuku are fine if you’re chasing the latest teen fashions, Ginza is the place to go when you’re looking for something more high-class and refined. Clothing, jewelry and accessories dominate but you’ll find high-end and restaurants of all kinds. Much like New York City, London, and Paris, Ginza is where the big labels from all over the world have their stores. If it’s fancy, fashionable, and suitably expensive, you’ll find it here. If you’re more interested in touring than shopping, Ginza has a few things to offer as well, including Tokyo’s main kabuki theater.
Like most major sections of Tokyo, Ginza is very easy to reach, with several subways (including the Hibiya Line and Ginza Line) stopping there. Any of the exits will let you out onto Ginza’s main road and from there it’s just a matter of walking up and down the street until you find what you’re looking for.
What to See
If you don’t like shopping for, or at least looking at, fancy clothes, jewelry, and the like, there may not be much to interest you in Ginza, but if you do, you could easily spend a day there. The giant department stores such as Matsuya are worth a look either way, at least to marvel at the sheer size of them and the variety of items they have on sale. Ginza has lots of great restaurants as well. They tend to be on the expensive side, though many have more reasonably priced lunch specials for those who want to eat fancy food without breaking the bank.
Shopping in Ginza
There are big fancy stores all up and down the main road and many of the side streets. Just keep an eye out for the signs. You’ll probably have more fun browsing at random than just following a list. While plenty of big name US and European clothing and jewelry brands have shops in Ginza (just name one, it’s probably there somewhere), be sure to check out the Japanese stores as well. You may even find a new favorite. It’s also useful to note that for purchases over 1000 Yen (around $100) many stores have a service counter where tourist visa holders can go to get a 5% duty free refund.
If clothes aren’t your thing, there’s a couple of fancy book, music, and electronic stores scattered about and the Sony store has a showroom where you can check out many of their upcoming products. The big Japanese department stores are also fun to browse thanks to their massive size and diverse selection. While you’re at it, be sure to check out their food markets (usually in the basement) and food courts (usually on the top floor).
Kabuki theater is one of Japan’s traditional performing arts (which I’ll talk about in more detail in a future post) where male actors wear elaborate costumes and act out famous scenes from Japanese history and mythology. It’s all in Japanese, of course, but you can rent excellent English audio guides that are synced with the performance and not only translate the dialogue, but offer background information on the story as well. If you want to experience a bit of traditional Japanese culture, kabuki is a great way to do so. Tokyo’s main kabuki theater is right on Ginza’s main road, though it’s being rebuilt right now so performances are currently held elsewhere. Check their English web site http://www.shochiku.co.jp/play/kabukiza/theater/ for the current performance schedule and information on how to buy tickets (which should be purchased in advance).
If you’re a serious Beatles fan, you can stop by the café that John Lennon and Yoko Ono used to frequent. It’s a nice little place right on the Ginza’s main road, but if The Beatles angle doesn’t appeal to you, you can find much cheaper coffee elsewhere.
I’ve spent much less time in Ginza than many other parts of Tokyo since my interest in fashion (especially expensive fashion) is very low, but overall, if you’re crazy about high fashion Ginza can easily become one of the highlights of your stay in Tokyo. But if you’re not, an hour or two spent marveling at the huge stores and bright lights (perhaps before taking in a kabuki performance) should be more than enough time for a quick visit.