SHOPPING AREAS IN TOKYO: GINZA, HARAJUKU, ODAIBA, SHIBUYA

GINZA

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the area around
the Sony showroom
GINZA (between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Bay) is Tokyo's famous bright lights and big prices commercial and shopping area. The most well known spot in Tokyo, it is where you can find $150 cantaloupes, $3,000-a-night hotel suites, and $800 Italian shoes. It is best visited at night when it is lit up with "galaxies of neon advertisements." Among the most popular places are the Ginza Apple Store and Uniqlo’s flagship store.

Ginza is defined by Harumi, Chuo and Sotobori streets and covers an area that extends for about 600 meters from east to west and 1.1 kilometers from north to south. Closed to traffic every weekend between noon and 5:00pm, the main streets are lined with massive department stores, upscale boutiques, and fancy nightclubs. In the side streets around it are plush designer shops, art galleries, high tech showrooms and more than 1,000 restaurants.

There aren't many museums, shrines or temples or things of that nature in Ginza. The main landmark is semicircular Wako Cascade at Ginza 4-chrome. In recent years some of the luxury shops have folded and been replaced by American coffee shops and fast food chains, taking a little of the glamor away from the place, while new stores like Bulgari Ginza Tower and Chanel Ginza, designed by architect Peter Marino, have opened, bringing back some of the luster.

Ginza has been an important commercial area since 1612 when a mint was built here. "Gin" means silver in Japanese and "Ginza" means shopping area. The district took the name Ginza in 1869. At one time there were 600 ginzas in Japan. Now there are about 30. Others have taken names like "plaza." In the Edo period, Ginza was famous for it artisans and made up mostly of wooden structures. After a fire in 1870 it was rebuilt with modern, brick buildings. In the rebuilding after the great earthquake of 1923 roads were widened and the area emerged as the major shopping and entertainment area of Tokyo. By the 1930s it was regarded as the trendiest area of Japan. After World War II t was rebuilt again.

Ginza was one of the first places in Tokyo to modernize. Some of Japan’s first Western-style buildings and it first department store were established here. The young men and women that gathered here in Western style clothes in the late 1800s and early 1900s were called moga (“modern girls”) and mona (“modern men”). When James Bond creator Ian Fleming visited Ginza in the 1960s he called it “one of the great pleasure streets of the world.” These days it is starting to loss some of its luster. In 2009 land prices dropped significantly in Ginza. Some designer names moved out because of low sales during the recession and high rents. Real estate companies were forced to drop prices to attract new tenants. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Ginza Concierge ginza.jp ; Tokyo Essentials tokyoessentials.com ; Japan Guide www.japan-guide.com Ginza Map: Tokyo Pocket Guide tokyopocketguide.com

Shopping in Ginza

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Ginza departmnet store
Chuo-dori Street is the main thoroughfare of Ginza. The main Ginza shopping area is on Chuo-dori between Shinbashi and Nohonbashi. On weekends and national holidays when the main streets are closed to vehicles, it is transformed it into a wide pedestrian mall.

Ginza is home to six department stores and more than 30 foreign designer shops as well as many established shop over a hundred years old. Don't expect to find many bargains here. Even small shops have to pay hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars for rent each year and these expenses naturally are passed on to the customers. Also don't expect to find many old traditional Japanese crafts. Most of items on sale in the Ginza are variations of the same high-tech or designer stuff available back home in America and Europe.

Many stores have neat gadgety stuff like high definition televisions that hang on walls like large paintings, cool digital audio equipment, and laser disc and computer technology that allows women to electronically "try on" hundreds different kinds of kimonos on a life-size projection screen.

Designer Shopping in Ginza

Among the well-known names found in Ginza are Christian Dior, Hermes, Cartier, Emilio Pucco, Coach, Dunhill, Tiffany’s and Gucci. A executive with Cartier told the Daily Yomiuri, “Ginza is where the most beautiful boutiques and brands are concentrated. They’ve gathered in a very limited area that is quite unique because you can walk for about a half an hour and you’ve got hundreds of brands with very nice, big stores.”

The Hermes store in Ginza was designed by Renzo Piano, the architect know best for designing the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Opened in 2001 with much fanfare, it is made of glass and brick and features hanging modern sculptures that resemble satellites, or at least it once did. In October 2004, the Dior store in Ginza opened a second floor store designed by Kimiko Inui that features a lattice of cane patterns lit by fiber optics at night.

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Dior building
The 10-story Chanel store, which opened in 2004, has a high-tech, diode-lit facade, representing quilting, designed by the architect Peter Marino. People waited in line all night when the store first opened to snatch up one-of-a-kind items. On top of the store is a restaurant run by the famous French chef Alain Ducasse.

Gucci opened an eight-story flagship store in November 2006. There is also a Tiffany’s, a Prada, a Pierre Marcolini, an expensive Belgian chocolate shop; Shieiso Parlor, where a Japanese cosmetics empire was launched; and Sayegusa, a 137-year-old children’s clothing store.

The Armani Ginza Tower is flagship store and mega boutique that opened in December 2007. Giorgio Armani himself was on hand for the opening in which Japanese formed a line around the block to buy handbags and other items. Armani has poured a lot of money into Japan. The Ginza store is one of the largest and most expensive Armani outlets ever built. It occupies an entire 12-story building with two basement floors and is organized like a department store with separate sections for clothing, food and housing items. Inside is Armani furniture, the world’s first Armani spa, an Italian restaurant and a member’s bar. Armani designed a special line of bags and clothes especially for the store.

The Italian designer Bulgari opened its largest flagship store in a 56-meter-tall Ginza building in December 2007. A rooftop terrace and garden are on the 11th floor. On the 19th floor is a restaurant with dinners that average between $150 and $200 per person. Cartier’s Ginza store is one of the most noticeable buildings in the district. Opened on November 2007 across the street from the Bulgari store, the nine-store golden building has chandelier on one floor and vintage watches displayed like museum pieces on another.

Ginza Six Shopping Complex

Ginza Six Shopping Complex opened in 2017 at the former site of the Matsuzakaya department store in Tokyo’s Ginza district. The 13-story complex hosts a total of 241 shops, including flagship outlets for international brands, high-end boutiques, a noh theater on a basement floor. The complex is partly owned by J. Front Retailing Co., which operates the Matsuzakaya department stores.. [Source: Kyodo, April 20, 2017]

After it opened Kyodo reported: “The exterior design of Ginza Six was inspired by traditional Japanese noren entrance curtains, while the interior is meant to offer a culture-rich experience with Japanese contemporary art and scenes of nature. Yachiyo Harada, a 68-year-old visitor said she was excited about the new venue in Ginza. “I’ve seen Ginza change rapidly. It’s sad to see the old scenery go, but with Ginza Six, the area will continue to evolve in a good way.”

“The rooftop provides a panoramic view of such landmarks as Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree. “We hope that Ginza Six will become the core of not only Ginza but also Tokyo and the country,” Shingo Tsuji, president of Mori Building Co., one of the developers involved in the project, said at an opening ceremony this week.

“Ginza Six, so named because it is located in the sixth district of Ginza, has a total floor space of around 47,000 sq. meters, with six underground floors in addition to the 13 above-ground floors. Floors seven through 12 are set as office space. To accommodate foreign tourists, a terminal for tourist buses has been built within its premises and a tourist counter for currency exchange and duty exemption services is set up on the ground floor.”

Akihabara

Akihabara (JR Akihabara Station, second stop from Tokyo Station on the JR Yamanote Line) is Tokyo’s “Electric Town.” Arguably the world's largest and most famous electronics district, Akihabara is a mecca for Otaku — a kind of geek that is particularly into anime and computer games. Some are also into “Cosplay.” There are many anime related stores where you can find animation figures, costumes and manga. It is a good place to get electronic products at reduced prices. The street in front of the station is dotted with stores offering almost every kind of electric and electronic device imaginable, including a lot of stuff you won't see in your home country. Most of stuff has been marked down 20 percent or more.

Akihabara is more than a tourist trap or shopping area. It' is a cultural hub. The otaku mecca changed from an electronic district to a software town and is now one of Japan’s leading pop-culture district. It is ground zero for otaku (nerd) culture. It is chock-a-block with small but influential, back-alley anime and manga stores and maid cafes. Within a several block area there are over 80 maid cafes.

On Sundays and holidays some of Akihabara’s streets are closed to traffic. In recent years these areas have attracted “cosplay” performers---people who dress up like manga and anime characters and put on street performances. Some regard the performances as a nuisance because they disrupt the flow of shoppers and there has been some effort to control them. One woman was arrested for putting in a show that climaxed with exposing her underwear. On weekend nights large crowds gather on the east side of JR Akihabara Station to see live street performance of bands and dance groups.

In January 2011, the vehicle-free pedestrian zone in Akihabara that was the site of the 2008 mass murder was re-opened. The street had been a car-free zone since 1973 on Sundays and holidays. In July 2010 all of Akihabara’s promenades reopened. In 2010, a number of duty-free shops were opened to lure foreign customers. Chinese-owned Laox runs the largest duty-free electronic store, followed by Softmap. Store clerks have been hired that speak Chinese, Korean and English . Poster saying say “Welcome” in Chinese hang from the walls of some stores. The Best Shops of Akihabara---Guide to Japanese Subculture by Toshimichi Nozoe is available for ¥1,000 by download at http://www.akibaguidebook.com

Websites: Akihabara Tourism Organization akihabara-japan.com ; Akihabara News akihabaranews.com ; JNTO web magazine jw-webmagazine.com/akihabara-area-ultimate-guide ; Go Tokyo gotokyo.org ; otaku story in the Washington Post Washington Post

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Skyscrapers of Shinjuku

Shinjuku

Shinjuku (Shinjuku Station) is a high-rise shopping and entertainment hub. JR Shinjuku Station is an immense terminal, which serves the most passengers of any station in Japan. Shinjuku is split into three major areas: 1) Shinjuku Street, 2) the Kabukicho district, the main sleaze area, and 3) the area on west side of Shinjuku station. Shinjuku Street (pedestrian-only on Sundays) is a shopping area lined with large department stores, fashionable specialty shops, restaurants and bars. Golden Street was a center the avant garde scene in the 1960s. Now it features dozens of little bars ensconced in spaces formally occupied by brothels. Many of the bars have regular customers who often look a bit shocked when strangers or foreigners come in.

Websites: Shinjuku official site foreigncity.shinjuku.tokyo.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Shinjuku Guide shinjuku-guide.com ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; Shinjuku Map: Tokyo Pocket Guide tokyopocketguide.com

Shinjuku Station is Japan's largest train station. As may as four million commuters on 19 train lines day pass through it every day. During rush hour special guards are sometimes employed to push passengers onto their trains. In the Edo Period, Shinjuku was where people parked their carts and animals and was known for its large amounts of horse dung. For a splendid view of all the action today check out the Sky Bar in the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which sits on top of the glass-and-chrome Shinjuku Park Tower and is where several scenes from the film Lost in Translation were shot. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; JR Map of Shinjuku Station jreast.co.jp

West Side of Shinjuku Station is newly developed business quarter with several new modernist skyscrapers, including Kenzo Tange's Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices, a three building complex with a 45-floor tower with free panoramic views. Also worth checking out are Shinjuku NS Building, with the world's largest pendulum clock (29 meters), the 110-meter-long interior "sky bridge," and the numerous restaurants on the 29th and 30th floor. Worth a look are the Kio Department store and some of the world's largest camera stores.

Shibuya

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girls in Shibuya
Shibuya (Shibuya Station) Shibuya (Shibuya Station) is one of Tokyo's most happening places. Known for its rowdy nightspots, noodle restaurants, shopping arcades, flashing lights, huge display screens, department stores, boutiques, hostess bars, and smokey clubs, it is a place where executives and salary men gather to drink heavily, young people hang out, tourists experience Tokyo’s intensity, women shop and huge crowds cross the streets.

Shibuya is a fast-growing modern shopping and entertainment area, with department stores, shops, restaurants and bars, around Shibuya station. The landscape of colored-light billboards, cramped buildings filled with pachinko parlors, karaokes, shops, and bars on different floors was a model for the film Blade Runner . The district is particularly popular with younger people. Every street and area in the district it seems has a different atmosphere. The Shibuya Center Street is crowded with a multitude of shops, including youth fashion shops, fast food restaurants and game centers, and it is famous as the place where new trends are born that quickly spread among the youth nationwide. Koen-dori Street, which extends to Yoyogi Park, is a shopping street with a row of department stores and fashionable buildings that attract families in particular. This is a trendsetting place for youth culture.

Shibuya is particularly popular with younger people. Every street and area in the district it seems has a different atmosphere. The Shibuya Center Street is crowded with a multitude of shops, including youth fashion shops, fast food restaurants and game centers, and it is famous as the place where new trends are born that quickly spread among the youth nationwide. Koen-dori Street, which extends to Yoyogi Park, is a shopping street with a row of department stores and fashionable buildings that attract families in particular. This is a trendsetting place for youth culture.

Shibuya also serves as a starting point for Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Olympic Park, Harajuku, Akasaka and Roppongi. Harajuku and Shibuya districts are where young Japanese come to be seen and check out the latest fashions and trends. The main square is the home of one of the world's busiest pedestrian crosswalks. All around are liquid crystal display screens showing off the latest Japanese products, fashions and pop stars. Shibuya station sees about 700,000 people a day Websites: Shibuya City city.shibuya.tokyo ; Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com Shibuya Map: Tokyo Essentials tokyoessentials.com/shibuya-map

Shibuya and Youth Culture in Japan

Shibuya has become a primary place for young people, particularly girls, to hang out into the wee hours of the morning. The shops in and around 109, a shopping center near the main crossroads, is where young girls in the latest street fashions and outrageous make-up gather. On 109, Alexander Harvey wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, “Saleswomen in ruffled miniskirts shout their welcome in sticky-sweet tones above the din of club music. Japanese girls with clouds of strawberry blond curls and heavy fake eyelashes cruise the mall’s 10 floors, shopping bags dangling from their wrists.” The mall “has everything a girl could want---terry cloth hot pants, argyle sweater dresses, rhinestone-studded skull rings---all at deep discounts to department store prices.”

Many people also gather around Manderake, the world’s largest manga and anime department store. Trends that begin here spread across Japan and often make their way to Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei and Shanghai and even London and New York. Sometimes you can see marketing agents with clipboards asking young girls what they think about this or that.

Shibuya has been center of youth culture and street fashion since the 1970s when college-age women began gathering here to shop for the latest fashions. Over the years the girls that have come have been getting steadily younger. In the 1980s high school girls began dominating. By the 1990s, middle school girls were appearing in larger and larger numbers. Now days there are even large numbers of elementary school girls. Shibuya also has traditionally been a place where men met with geishas or their lovers. This mix of men and young girls that sometimes takes place here produces sleaze and trouble.

Shibuya has become a primary place for young people, particularly girls, to hang out into the wee hours of the morning. One 16-year-old Shibuya girl told the Daily Yomiuri, “I often spend the night in the streets or at karaoke shops, or I stay with men who ask me for a date. I’ve not returned home for several days now, because everything is boring at home, where I have nothing to do.”

Particularly disturbing is the number of young girls seen at night talking with unsavory looking middle-age men. The men will strike up a conversation, and ask the girls if they want something to eat. When the girl above was asked if she engaged in “compensated dating: (a euphemism for teenage prostitution), she said, “Why not? I can earn ¥60,000 a date. There are also large numbers of male “scouts” in their 20s who try to lure young girls into some endeavor, usually bad. One Shibuya regular told the New York Times, “Every scout is trying to get a girl into his business. There’s the store scout, the restaurant scout, the sex business scout, the entertainment industry scout, the fashion magazine scout.”

Harajuku

Harajuku (one stop from Shibuya on the JR Yamanote line) is a neighborhood popular with fashion-conscious teenagers, who tend to congregate around the record stores and clothes shop. There are also many trendy shops, such as Condomania, restaurants and tea shops in the area. The pedestrian overpass from Harajuku station to Meiji Shrine and the narrow alley of Takeshita Dori is favorite gathering place for young Japanese who like to dress in outrageous cosplay costumes and relish in drawing attention to themselves. Kiddyland is good place to check out the latest weird gadgets.

Harajuku is a collective term for the area that stretches from the Harajuku Station to Omotesando. On the west side of JR Harajuku Station, there is a wood of the Meiji-jingu Shrine that is famous for a Japanese iris field where irises bloom in profusion in the rainy season, June and a treasury that stores the articles Emperor Meiji cherished in the late 19th century. The east side of the station is known nationwide as the young people’s town. On Takeshita-dori Street, in particular, this narrow pedestrian packed with young teenager in weekends.

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Harajuku dancers in the old days
Harajuku a been known as an center of Japanese fashion since the 1970s and the crossing of Meiji-dor and Omotesandi is regarded as the epicenter. Trends over the years have included An/Nonozuka (a “tribe” of young girls with fashion magazines in hand) and Takenko-zoku (young people who performed distinctive dances wearing distinctive, colorful clothing. In recent years fast fashion has become the lasting trend with stores like Japan’s Uniqlo, the Gap, Spain’s Zara, Britain’s Tipship/ Topman and Sweden’s H&M have all become firmly planted here.

Harajuku is crowded on the weeks with Goths, Lolitas, Gothic-Lolitas, visual-kei glam rockers, flashy boys with strange haircuts, and lest we forgot the Harajuku girls with their funky, girlish hairstyles and their colorful, mismatched, accessory-laden outfits. Takeshita-Dori, across the street from Harajuku Station, is popular with 13 to 15 year olds and is good place to check out the shops that keep Tokyo’s youth culture thriving. The LeForest Department Store, with over 100 trendy boutiques inside, is popular with the younger crowds. Websites: Photos japanforum.com Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com

Omotesando

Omotesando (Chiyoda subway line, Omote-sando Station, at the end of Harajuku) is a wide boulevard dubbed the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo. Located in the districts of Shibuya and Minato, it runs from Harajuku to Aoyama and is famous for its designer-label shops and for the buildings of the designer-label shops, many designed by famous architects. It used to be closed off to traffic but now is a busy thoroughfare filling with cars. While its main clientele are older fashionable adults it also has places that attract younger, trendier crowds. There are a large number of cafes, which are fine places to watch the street fashion parade. If you have time check the pet salons that offer aromatherapy and reflexology for dogs.

In Omotesando and its adjacent Aoyama, fashion designers began to set up their offices and studios after the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Since then, more and more fashion stores for adults, fashionable coffee shops and restaurants have been built in this area. Aoyama with its zelkova tree lined avenue has the atmosphere that resemble those in European streets.

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Armani store
Prada, Louis Vuitton and Emporio Armani opened new shops here in the early 2000s. The Prada store was designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who also designed the Beijing Olympic Bird Nest Stadium and London’s Tate Modern Art Museum. The Prada building is made of glass and features diamond patterns. Other architectural stunners include Ubiqutious One, where Louis Vuitton rules; Tod’s flag ship store, designed to resemble branches of trees; Commes des Garcons, with futurist glass units; and the Ralph Lauren building.

Oriental Bazaar, next to the Dior building, has been a fixture of Omotesando since 1954. It is regarded as Tokyo’s largest and best souvenir and craft store and is a good place to stop to get gift for all the folks back home. Nearby is the flagship store for Kiddyland, one of Japan’s largest toy store chains. Also worth checking out are the green-glass-fronted V28 building near Harajuku station, which is open 24 hours and houses a Zara fashion store and Gold’s Gym; the Audi Forum Ice Cream building, which features an asymmetrical glass facade, with new car models and classic cars displayed in some of the windows; and the UT Store Harajuku, which resembles a neon stock exchange.

Odaiba

Odaiba (north of Tsukiji, reached by Yurikamome monorail from Shimbashi Station) is a futuristic shopping and entertainment center built on an island reclaimed from a landfill and Tokyo Bay in the 1980s. Comprised of glass-and-steel towers, geometric structures and covered walkways, it draws large crowds and brings to mind a settlement on another planet.

Sometimes called Daiba, Odaiba contains themed shopping malls, a museum, a television broadcast center, various sports facilities, an exhibition center, theme parks, two virtual reality entertainment centers, a vehicles-of-the future display, a brewery, a waterfront replica of the Statue of Liberty, restaurants, hotels and what used to the world's tallest Ferris wheel. The major landmark at Odaiba is the ball-topped Fuji Television building.

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Fuji building at Odaiba
Venus Fort is a shopping mall oriented towards women. Featuring squares and fountains in an attempt to evoke the atmosphere of an 18th century European, it contains expensive restaurants and upscale shops. It is popular place for dates and lady's days out. Every two hours the cloud-painted ceiling simulates a sunset. One reason for this is that studies have shown customers spend more money near dusk. Other themed shopping areas include Aqua City, and Palette Town. Almost every week one of them sponsors some kind of event and entertainment. Worth checking is large manga and anime themes shop with lots of books and magazines as well as all kinds of merchandise with favorite manga and anime characters. Websites: Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com Odaiba suggestions Sugihara.com Odaiba Map: Japan National Tourism Organization tokyo.grandnikko.com

Image Sources: 1) 2) 4) 10) Ray Kinnane 3) JNTO 5) Kabuki 21 website 6) Wikipedia 7) Tokyo government 8) Hector Garcia 9) xorcysyt blog 11) Wikipedia 12) Andrew Gray Photosensibility

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, UNESCO, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020


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