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GINZA: Modern Architecture Tour

The name of Ginza should pop up when most people think of Tokyo, and they would see the ivory-colored stone building with a clock tower that is seemingly standing on an intersection.  On the other hand, more and more stories cover Ginza’s recent luxury boutiques, world-class dining scenes and cutting-edge design that inspire the global culture.  That is no argument that Ginza is the center of Tokyo and that this busy commercial quarter reflects the mixture of old and new in today’s Japanese society.

Ginza’s positioning as cultural and commercial center was established 400 years back when then national leader Shogun Tokugawa’s government located banking facilities in the area.  Surviving the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and the Second World War followed by the US occupation era, Ginza has been the open studio for many architects from East and West, thanks to the clean zoning development with straight grid-like streets, which gives plain free space for their new architectural inspiration.

The iconic corner clock tower is one of the historic Western style architectures from the pre-war era in Japan, when Japan was receiving more and more influence from the Western culture including art pieces and architecture.  Over the last few decades, Ginza has witnessed a new wave of architectural surge, which symbolizes worldwide cultural and economic focus on Tokyo with successful global brand companies.

As local Tokyoites call “Gin-Bura,” meaning strolling Ginza, architecture is one of the attractions that visitors should enjoy and experience today’s cultural center.

Maison Hérmes
(5-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)
Among several boutiques worldwide, this is the very first brand-new construction from scratch for a Hérmes’ boutique.  The Italian architect Renzo Piano, who designed the Ponpidou center of Paris, designed this building as a large lantern with full of light by using glass blocks for the exterior walls.  Glass wall allows full of sunlight to inside, but the building itself also shines just like a lantern with sunlight during the day and the room lights after dark.  Mr. Piano’s secret to express Hérmes’ historic craftsmanship is the 13,000 17-by-17 inch glass tiles.  All made by hand in Italy, and they were not manufactured at a factory, no two tiles looks the same, and Mr. Piano realizes the hand craft elements to this architecture for the historic artisanship of the boutique.

Louis Vuitton Mallertier
(7-6-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)
Tokyo has been the largest market for Louis Vuitton, and Ginza is the crucial location for one of their flagship stores in the world.  Louis Vuitton’s time-honored craftsmanship is uniquely expressed with flat square opaque stone tiles randomly sprinkled all over the very flat walls.  Lights come through the tiles’ opaque material, which creates high-tech elements as well as wrapping paper texture around the building’s exterior.  The modern flavor of the architecture is designed by Jun Aoki from Japan, who designed many other Luis Vuitton boutiques in Japan and overseas including New York City and Hong Kong.

Mikimoto Ginza 2
(2-4-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)

Among many unique and glamorous buildings in the area, Mikimoto’s second property in Ginza stands out with its design.  Toyoo Ito, a Japanese architect that designed multiple buildings in Japan and all over the world, designed the world’s best pearl distributor Mikimoto’s boutique in Ginza.  Scattering windows in different shapes and sizes are lit up after dark, the building appears as a luxurious jewelry box from a fantasy world.  The light pink exterior brightens the building on an intersection, and the random windows reflect bubbles and pearls from the ocean bed and nature’s mystical world that humans are urged to look into.  This 9 story building was completed in 2005 and accommodates Mikimoto’s boutiques, cosmetics and gift stores.

Spazio Brera Ginza
(1-4-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)

The world’s renowned Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa’s architecture facilitates a luxurious Italian chocolate and jewelry boutique.  The dome top glass building is a new trend center for Tokyo’s design and fashion sensitive generations with exclusive chic hidden cafés indulging urban professionals as well as global travelers to Tokyo.  Looking up the 10-story clearance to the glass dome is a one-of-a-kind view. (Japanese only)

De Beers Ginza Building
(2-5-11 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)

Another famous Japanese architect, Jun Mitsui, designed the world’s top diamond company’s first Asian boutique.  Pedestrians can’t help looking up and hold up their cell phone cameras when passing by this building because of the curvy shape of the building that reminds many of Salvador Dali’s artwork.  Mr. Mitsui’s concept was to maximize the light reflection from different directions in different hours of the day, just like a high-quality diamond generates beautiful shines.

Swatch Ginza

(7-9-18 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)

Swatch Group Japan that manages multiple luxury watch brands opened this new Ginza office building in May 2007.  Accommodating their showrooms, boutiques and auditoriums, a world famous Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed this building as Avenue de Temps (the avenue of time): Well known for his very unprecedented ideas and techniques, he took the advantage of the property’s location between one of Ginza’s main streets Chuo Dori (Center Street) and a small side street called Azuma Dori.  He designed the street level to open as a public path that connects the two streets when the building is open at 11am.  The watch showroom and boutiques are uniquely connected, which is one of Mr. Ban’s innovative architectural designs. (Japanese only)

Old Ginza is Still Here

So what is that famous clock tower on the corner?  This unforgettable icon of Ginza is built in 1932 as Mr. K. Hattori’s import watch store, which later became Seiko Corporation, the world’s best watch company.  This explains the watch tower on the building.  Today this building accommodates a high-end Wako Department Store, which is also one of the historic retailers from Ginza.  The clock tower rings the Westminster Quarters at every hour, the same ring from the Big Ben of London.

The building is designed by Jin Watanabe in the neo-renaissance style that was very rare in Japan back in the day.  Mr. Watanabe led the cutting-edge architectural style with different Western styles applied depending on the location and the facility function.

Ginza displays the history of Japan’s modernism development that absorbed Western influences in design.  Along with the cutting-edge recent styles, Ginza features a very unique cityscape for Ginza strollers.

Other historic buildings in Ginza:

Koransha Buliding (5-12-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)
The oldest art-deco style building in Ginza built in 1926.
Taimei School (5-1-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)
One of the first public grade school facilities in Tokyo that re-opened right after the end of the Second World War.  Originally built in 1878 and restored in 1929 with the French style school gate and arched windows.
Nitta Building
(8-2-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)
A Spanish style architecture built in 1931 with detailed design on the arches on the street level.
Ginza Toho-Seimei Building
(3-3-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)
Built in 1932 with a  gothic art-deco style.  Straight lines with Corinthian columns at the front.

——– Nori Akashi: Public Relations Manager at the New York Office of JNTO

Japan National Tourist Organization
New York Office
One Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 1250, New York, NY 10020
TEL: 212-757-5640

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