Ginza is a great neighbourhood to explore in Tokyo. It has a refined, cosmopolitan character with a bright, shiny exterior and old-world soul.

Ginza: The site of a coin mint in the Edo era; Tokyo’s original modern, commercial suburb during the Meiji period; the most valuable real estate on the planet during Japan’s so-called Bubble years. Today, though not quite as exclusive as in its heyday, the area still oozes money.

Tokyo now has cooler suburbs and there’s plenty of competition in terms of shopping, drinking and dining, while Ginza itself has come down to earth and fast food and fast fashion mix it up with the more prestigious establishments, Ginza still has a more refined character than areas like Shinjuku and Shibuya, Akasaka and Roppongi; while it offers more to see and do than other sophisticated neighbourhoods like Aoyama and Daikanyama.

ginza's chuo dori

The heart of Ginza is the 4-chome intersection, where two wide boulevards intersect: Chuo dori, which runs south to Shimbashi and north to Nihonbashi and Harumi dori, which runs west to Yurakucho and Hibiya and east to Tsukiji and on through to Ariake in the Tokyo Bay area.

Most of the more opulent stores line the expansive sidewalks of one of these two roads, while smaller stores occupy the grid of narrow paved streets behind them. Specialty stores, restaurants, bars, galleries, florists, bakers and tobacconists give the area a cosmopolitan charm, while on the outskirts sit burger restaurants, cheaper cafes and theme restaurants like Hooters and Budweiser Carnival.

Yurakucho on the north western fringe of Ginza, however, has some excellent shopping of its own as well as some very atmospheric dining options. Shimbashi, further south, is a ‘salaryman’ enclave with its own character and dining and entertainments options. To the north, Nihonbashi features the famous eponymous bridge and a beautiful Mitsukoshi department store.

Unlike most of inner Tokyo, Ginza is blessed with wide avenues and a neat grid of streets that make strolling around a pleasure, especially on weekends when Chuo dori is closed to car traffic. The main streets are spectacular at night as the neon displays light up the area in technicolor.

ginza's chuo dori on weekends

ginza lit up at night

The area has some architectural gems, from the classical 1930s facade of the exclusive Ginza Wako department store on the corner of Harumi dori and Chuo dori to the breathtaking lines of the Tokyo International Forum building in Yurakucho, but it’s the distinctive architecture and eye-catching facades of stores for global merchants like De Beers, Apple, Hermes and Dior that are the main sightseeing attraction.

tokyo international forum : : yurakucho

light reflections on hermes store glass facade

ginza wako

Ginza is the original upmarket shopping district and, despite competition from the Omotesando-Aoyama area, it still houses a ridiculous number of European luxury brand stores. It’s also the site of the country’s premier Uniqlo store and its most eclectic fashion store, Dover Street Market. Another notable store, one of the city’s most beautiful mens’ retailers, is the Hankyu Men’s department store in Yurakucho, at the end of Harumi dori. Ginza also has some wonderfully eccentric specialty stores tucked away in its back streets, and even more mainstream global retailers like Zara and Gap have dressed up their stores to fit in with the Ginza atmosphere.

uniqlo flagship store designed by wonder wall

t-shirt vending machine at dover street market gets ready for halloween

There’s never a shortage of places to eat in Tokyo and Ginza is no exception. From a number of discreetly located, peerless 3-star Michelin rated restaurants to the smokey yakitori grill bars with their rickety outdoor seating beneath the rail tracks in Yurakucho, there are endless dining options for all tastes and wallets.

atmospheric dining in ginza

more atmospheric dining in yurakucho

Italian with all the trimmings

Of course, this being Tokyo, Ginza still has many of the quirks of modern Japanese culture: cuteness is never far away, whether adorning a sweets shop or a building site.

sweets store complete with cute mascots & lots of pink

construction site graphics

If you visit Tokyo, make sure you spend at least a little time in Ginza.