Ginza State of Mind

LuxuryFacts takes you to the streets of Japan's fashion capital in Tokyo, the all fabulous Ginza

By: Salman Z. Bukhari

Posted on: August 10, 2011

LuxuryFacts takes you to the streets of Japan’s fashion capital in Tokyo, the all fabulous Ginza.

Ginza is a lively place where fashionable people stroll on the streets and enjoy good food in restaurants. ‘Shiseido in Ginza since 1872’ reads the new window display at the Shiseido Parlour in Ginza - Japan’s answer to 5th Avenue. The window is covered with a sketchy Parisian art of women and men donning the finest clothes, sipping coffee and nibbling petit fours, their shopping bags in tow. It is not just a whimsical fantasy of the artist who fabricated the shop front for the month. Step onto the main street. As you soak Japan’s summer sun, you will see that the Ginza of 1872 still exists as that fashionable place where people shop and eat at fine places, enjoying life as they dash from one store to the next, one café to another. True, the Victorian clothes are gone, only to be replaced by a Chanel 2011 resort dress and Ferragamo pumps, but the heart of this glorious space is still intact, beating for those who appreciate the finest things in life.

Japan is a Cinderella story, a nation which had everything going against it post the Wars, which devastated everything worth holding on to. That’s when a collective will and determination stepped in, making an entire generation work with perseverance and commitment to build a nation they envisioned to live in, all created by their own hands. Build they did. The country stood on its feet and then just soared making it the third largest economy and the first Asian nation to gain a developed world status in a matter of decades. Call it the power of humanity for Japan is a phoenix which rose from its own ashes and ensured that its natives became as prosperous as the land they tilled.

Having found wealth, after a prolonged period of hard work and austerity, new Japan was all ready to self-congratulate itself for the years of nation building, with wads of Yen in hand. So what do they do? They start traveling, with the closest stop at Hawaii and rest of America, and what do they find there? Luxury, of course. This newly rich Japanese wanted nothing but the finest, the most decadent and often outrageously expensive.

This was timed well with many a luxury brands’ aspirations to grow out of the stagnating European and American markets by setting sail for more lucrative shores. First in list was the Land of Rising Sun (ironically that’s what Japan proved to be for these French and Italian luxe brands).

Ginza, named after the silver-coin mint established there in 1612 during the Edo period, went through multiple reconstructions because of the fires, earthquakes and more recently the World War. It became the model street on which rest of the country’s modernization plans were based by the Meiji government. Native brands of repute like Shiseido already had a booming business on the street, so did local departmental stores like Mastuya and Wako, which attracted the rich and famous, making the street a cornerstone of every luxury label.

There was no short-changing the well-travelled Japanese consumer who had seen the quality of service and retail experience the world over, making each luxe brand put their best foot forward for their new favourite consumer and the future of luxury. Ginza turned into a haven with flagship stores of multiple-storeys, display of architectural excellence and one-upmanship.

Today this street has two Tiffany & Co. standalone boutiques, two Louis Vuitton mega stores, Chanel, Apple and every other brand you can imagine. These monstrous stores spread over multiple floors house everything and anything in luxury. Take Hermès for example. Floor one is for scarves, ties, accessories, one level down is a male haven, one level up and you are in women’s ready to wear, further up and you can find home accessories and baby wear. Go to yet another floor and there’s an art gallery and more merchandise. Armani has a café or two while Dior showcases large screens from floor to ceiling playing latest runway shows on loop.

Mt. Fuji, step aside, for Mt. Prada is more impressive. With so many levels, the store has its own escalators connecting one level to the next. Gucci, Burberry, Ferragamo, Van Cleef & Arpels, Lladro, Swarovski (with their new dreadful Crystal Hello Kitty collection this season), an entire mall dedicated to the Swatch Group watches (Rado, Omega, Breguet, Tissot, Longines, et al) - if this does not get your heartbeat racing, we doubt anything else will.

Abercrombie and Fitch, though not as famous with natives, has managed to attract tourists and expats with its over sexualized bare-chested escorts who will guide you through the 12 (or was it 13?) levelled store with a loud club-isque music in the background. High street must be applauded for making a gutsy Ginza entry. Right across A&F you will see the tallest Zara and Swedish brand H&M sitting smug in between. Electronics major like Yamaha too have a stellar building complete with a restaurant and an orchestration hall in its flagship.

What about those who haven’t managed to get real-estate on this haloed street? Enter the malls, the saviours, which house Japan bred Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons and Yōji Yamamoto. They find their retail space in the half dozen departmental stores along with Jimmy Choo, DKNY, Dolce&Gabbana, Bottega Veneta, Tod’s, Christian Louboution, YSL, and of course all the brands which have their own jumbo stores just a few feet outside. Why miss any Nipponese action? If statistics are to be looked at, Chanel has less than 15 stores in its home city Paris, but in Tokyo, alone, the count is 19. This does not account other prefectures (states) which form this island country.

All the card swiping might leave you a bit exasperated and the feet sore with all the retail high-drama. So rest a while at the umpteen swish cafés which are either hidden like little treasures or sprawled on the street itself. Lunching ladies should most definitely visit Shiseido’s Faro - slow time for a chic lengthy luncheon overlooking the action outside on the street. While at it, do indulge in the most delectable pastries, macaroons and cookies at the landmark Shiseido Parlour’s Deli on the ground level. We promise, you might never want to leave the place.

The sun which rose, is slightly dull thanks to the turbulent financial scenario caused by the global recession from which the country is yet to fully recover, adding to the woes are the natural disasters which engulfed the region recently. Today the stores are filled with people, and many of them have come with empty bags, larger wads of notes and an insatiable appetite for luxury glory. The only difference is that these new arrivals are not the Japanese who are holding the pulse of the retail revival, but the newly emerged, nouveau riche Chinese whose country’s lifecycle is now in the same spot where once Japan was. But Ginza has seen worse days and refuses to let her bright lights become any dimmer. She adorns herself with finesse and style, for this is where the fashionable people shop and dine, so someone needs to welcome them always…no?

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