Written by Hilary Keyes
15 Unusual Things To Do In Ginza
Ginza is famous for its shopping facilities, but there is so much more to enjoy here! The magnificent Kabukiza Theater, hidden shrines, a toy park, art galleries, and more! Here are 15 of the best, and some little known, things to do in Ginza.
Ginza - So Much More than Tokyo's Luxury Shopping District!
Built upon a former swampland, Ginza was named for the old Japanese silver mint that stood in this area in the 1600s. Now Ginza is known round the world as a luxury brand shopping haven, and throngs of visitors come here every day looking for the very best in both Western and Japanese fashions, home goods, and beauty items.
Picture from How To Watch A Kabuki Play At Kabukiza Theater
It's also where you will find Kabukiza, the famous Kabuki theater that was rebuilt in 2013, and which has existed on this site for over 120 years. While there are plenty of famous spots to see and shop at in Ginza, there are also some lesser known things to do that you shouldn't miss out on here either.
1. Ginza Yonchome - Appreciate the Architecture
Ginza Yonchome is essentially the fourth block of the overall Ginza area, and is one where you will find some of Japan's oldest and most loved department stores.
This building, in particular, is interesting for architecture fans - Ginza Wako and its clock tower, have been standing guard over the Ginza Station area since 1932. This was originally a watch store, but grew into a department store in 1947 after taking over an earlier store that had been in business since the late 1800s.
Across the street from here, you will also find Mitsukoshi, another historical department store, and one that has secrets of its own to discover.
2. Ginza Mitsukoshi - See a Mysterious Jizo Statue
At Ginza Mitsukoshi you can shop for practically anything, but something that not many people know about this department store is that on its ninth floor, out on the Ginza Terrace, you will find the Ginza Shusse Jizoson, a statue of Jizo, that is said to grant luck in getting ahead in life. This statue is also a registered Tangible Cultural Property of Chuo ward, where Ginza is situated.
This statue was first excavated in what is now Ginza Yonchome just after the start of the Meiji Period, and stood on the roadside here until 1968, when it was moved to Ginza Mitsukoshi. The name, Shusse Jizo, refers to its "moving up" from being a roadside statue to one on a rooftop, and because of this, it is said to help those who are looking to advance their careers or move ahead with their life goals.
3. National Film Center - Learn About Japanese Cinema
The National Film Center is part of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, which also includes the art museum, the film center, and a craft gallery.
The National Film Center has both special exhibitions and a permanent collection, which displays the history and flow of Japanese film from the 1910s until about the 1960s, and features items such as vintage posters, movie pamphlets, film props, and even classic cameras too. What makes this museum so worthwhile is that all of their displays are written in both Japanese and English, so that even those who can't speak a word of Japanese can appreciate the history of film too.
This center is also part of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), and has taken on the task of acquiring missing films of historical value from around the world and restoring and preserving these cultural artifacts.
4. Free Galleries in Ginza - Learn About Traditional and Contemporary Japanese Art
There are many small, hidden art galleries to discover in Ginza, and many of them have free (or very reasonably priced) exhibitions. There is Gallery Shukado, which exhibits traditional Japanese art work, and has a catalogue available in English.
In the photo, you can see the Okuno Building, an entire building built in the 1930s that was one of Japan's first singles apartments, and is now home to 20 different small galleries. This photo is of Room 306, one gallery that those interested in Japanese contemporary art and history definitely should not miss out on.
5. Tour the Ginza Hatcho Shrines
While undertaking a shrine pilgrimage might not sound like something you can do in the city, there is one such challenge available in Ginza - and it takes a lot of careful searching to reach all of the targets. The Ginza Hatcho Shrines are a group of about ten small Inari shrines scattered throughout the greater Ginza area.
What makes this such a challenge is that these Inari shrines are not large buildings, but rather small shrines tucked away in alleys, inside other buildings, on rooftops, or even in areas that seem impossible to enter.
The Ginza Shusse Jizo mentioned earlier is a part of the extended version of this pilgrimage, and is probably one of the easiest of the sites to find. If you'd like to learn more about this tour, take a look at the official homepage of the Ginza area; in autumn 2016 they had a special stamp rally, where those who collected stamps from each shrine in a special booklet could receive a free gift.
6. Toyoiwa Inari Shrine - Test Your Luck
Picture from Toyoiwa Inari Shrine - A Hidden Shrine in Ginza
If you don't have the time to check out all ten of the Ginza Hatcho shrines, then just visiting Toyoiwa Inari Shrine is enough. This is perhaps one of the easiest and yet hardest of the shrines to find, but when you do, you will be surprised by how otherworldly it feels. Hidden away between two buildings, the very air around Toyoiwa Inari Shrine feels both mystical and ancient.
7. Hakuhinkan Toy Park - Unleash Your Inner Child
Ginza is well known for its numerous brand name and luxury brand stores, but there is one place that will surely appeal to kids of all ages. Hakuhinkan Toy Park is Ginza's answer to New York's old FAO Schwarz, a toy store that carries everything from traditional games and toys, to the latest items for international film and TV series, and of course, Japan-limited exclusive items too. At any given time, there are about 200,000 kinds of toys available here.
While there are branch stores of this chain in most of Japan's major airports, you have to visit their main store in Ginza to truly appreciate just how incredible this toy store can be. Taking up its own building, within the walls of Hakuhikan, you will not only find wall to wall toys, but also a toy car race track, a theater, and even restaurants too. If you want to indulge your inner child or find souvenirs for a youngster, then this is the place to check out.
8. Hibiya Park - Enjoy a Concert or Just the Natural Setting
Although not technically located in the immediate Ginza area, Hibiya Koen or Hibiya Park, is one spot that you won't want to miss out on in the area. A famous concert and event venue, Hibiya Park is also home to tennis courts, fountains, and even a Japanese style garden that is sure to please anyone looking for nature in the city.
If you feel like taking a break from sightseeing or shopping, why not pick up some lunch or a snack, and find yourself a nice sunny bench in the park?
9. Edo Kiriko Glassware from Kagami Crystal - See Japanese Elegance Up Close
Edo Kiriko is a type of colorful, carved or etched crystal glass said to have been first produced in the Nihonbashi area of Edo (old Tokyo) during the late Edo Period. Thanks to the delicate beauty and exceptional craftsmanship that Edo Kiriko glass works demand, they were recognized as one of Tokyo's traditional handicrafts in 1985, and have been a popular gift given to world leaders and special someones ever since.
Kagami Crystal Ginza Shop is the flagship store for Kagami Crystal, a brand that was the first to produce these crystal glasses commercially, established in 1934. Not only do they sell original Edo Kiriko items, but also those created by certified traditional artisans too. This shop is a must for those who are interested in Japanese handicrafts, or for those wanting to see a part of Tokyo's history.
10. Yabaton - Improve Your Luck and Fill Your Stomach
Ginza is also a city where you will find plenty of gourmet cuisine to choose from; everything from very reasonably priced sushi lunches, to European style dinners running in the tens of thousands of yen can be found here. But if you are looking for something more unique in Ginza, then a visit to Yabaton is a must.
Yabaton is originally from Nagoya in Aichi prefecture, and is a miso katsu specialty restaurant. Miso katsu is a dish where katsu (breaded and fried pork cutlets) are served with a rich miso-based sauce alongside steamed rice and miso soup.
While this might just seem like an ordinary restaurant to the casual observer, there is something special hidden on the second floor of Yabaton. There is an altar with a sacred tree on it that has been dedicated to Ise Grand Shrine in Mie prefecture. After checking out the Ginza Hatcho shrines, it would be a shame to miss out on a chance to see this shrine altar too!
11. Onsenza, the Oita Specialty Store - Visit Beppu Hot Springs Without Leaving Ginza!
Would you like to see more of Japan, but only have a limited amount of vacation time or a shoestring budget to work with? Then Ginza is the ideal place to check out. Onsenza is an antenna shop managed by the Oita Prefecture Tourism Association; this store sells all the best products available from Oita prefecture but at a store conveniently located in Ginza.
Here you will find hot spring bath salts, beauty products and foods made with Oita's local specialties, and even a hot spring footbath filled with hot spring water shipped straight from the Beppu Onsen.
12. Marugoto Kochi - Head Out to Kochi Prefecture
Picture from Marugoto Kochi - Enjoy Regional Goods In Ginza!
Kochi is best known for its numerous clean and pure rivers, so juices and sake from this prefecture are said to be some of the highest quality around. At Marugoto Kochi, you will find plenty of great foods, including seasonal items, for sale on their first floor market, Tosa Ichi, and a wide selection of sake and regional wines on their basement floor shop, Tosa Gura.
And if you want to see other parts of Japan while staying in one city, there are many other antenna shops for Hokkaido, Hiroshima, Kumamoto, and many other prefectures here as well. Just take a stroll around the area, and see where you can travel to next!
13. Tsukiji Honganji - Find Indian Buddhist Architecture in Japan?!
Tsukiji Honganji Temple is a rare example of Indian Buddhist-influenced architecture in Japan, and one that, while it may not seem that imposing from the outside, has amazing stained glass, a massive golden altar, and a pipe organ with 2000 pipes inside.
Why a pipe organ you ask? This organ was designed for the temple by Walker, a German organ maker, in order to promote the spread of Buddhist music. The pipes on either side form six mountains that represent the six Chinese characters of "na mu a mi da butsu", while there are 48 pipes in the center of each side to represent the 48 Vows, the central sutra of Jodo Shinshu, the sect of Buddhism practiced at Tsukiji Honganji Temple.
14. Tsujiri - Try Matcha Ice Cream from Kyoto Tea Shop
Picture from Tsujiri - Refined Matcha Flavored Treats In Ginza!
If you are a fan of Japanese sweets, then you may have already tried matcha ice cream before during your travels, but there is a shop that you simply have to try if you are in Ginza. Tsujiri is a branch of the famous Kyoto-based tea of the same name, and is where you will find green tea ice cream and related sweets and drinks that will put others to shame. Their ice cream contains double the standard amount of matcha that most shops use, and comes with a sprinkling of freshly ground green tea on top, while they also serve wagashi-inspired seasonal dishes in cones as well.
Here you can also pick up matcha and hojicha tea bags, and other tea related items too.
15. GINZA SIX - A Microcosm of Ginza and Its Charms
Newly opened in April 2017, GINZA SIX is an all-inclusive, high-class shopping and entertainment center that showcases the best of what Ginza has to offer. Not only can you shop here, but you can also view different sides of Japanese culture, see works of art by world-renowned artists, and even enjoy views of Mount Fuji from their rooftop garden. And, in keeping with Ginza tradition, there is even an Inari shrine on this rooftop too.
Don't Let Ginza Fool You With Its Glamour!
Just because guidebooks might say that Ginza is a luxury area, it doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of amazing, historical and reasonably priced things to do there as well. Use this article as your guide to finding some of the lesser known, but equally impressive things to do when visiting Ginza and its surrounding area.