Tread Through a Timeless Ginza on a Theatrical Night Tour
For those who like their tours with a bit of dramatic flavor, the Ginza Theatrical Night Tour is – like the traditional snacks sampled on route – a taste of what Ginza might have been like in the 1920s and 1930s. It is held entirely in English. The mini-adventure spans spots both familiar and obscure and frames them as part of the area’s rich history, something easily lost in the dazzle of today’s glitzy Ginza. So despite what its name implies, the tour is a treat not only for theater lovers but for anyone keen to experience the retro side of one of Tokyo’s most iconic districts.
The first act does, fittingly, begin in a theater – the Togeki building in Higashi Ginza. Upon taking our cinema seats we were introduced to Sylvia, our guide for the evening, who joked that her outfit could get her hired as an upmarket department store lift attendant. After a crash course in Ginza and its remarkable history, including its long-running status as a fashion hotspot and a favorite jaunt of the stylishly international modern boys and girls (so called “moba” and “moga”) of the 1920s, we were soon joined by two other guests – the charming Peggy and Gin-zaburo who bore more than a passing resemblance to the kind of characters shown in old slideshow photos. Exactly who they are and how they come to join the tour, you will have to find out for yourself! But very welcome additions they were, and soon our group was out onto Ginza’s bustling streets.
Being such a well-known district it’s easy to imagine Ginza as a place already checked off on most Tokyo residents’ lists, with little left to surprise the seasoned Tokyoite. Yet, walking the wide avenues with our new peculiar friends in tow did indeed feel like a fresh experience. Taking a second look at streets I thought I knew; I began to notice quirks and details that told stories of a history just waiting to be explored. Known as an area receptive and pliable to change, its bold embrace of outside trends being evident even in the 1920s, it’s all the more remarkable that so many treasures of old Ginza remain hidden away between the high fashion retailers and trendy eateries.
Our guides were quick to point out places that have retained much of their original historical charm, one being Ginza Kimuraya. Established more than 150 years ago, the discreet (by Ginza standards) establishment holds the honor of being Japan’s oldest bakery and the birthplace of the anpan, a sweet bean bun which became a favorite snack of Emperor Meiji and the whole nation soon after. We got to try one of their most popular items ourselves, the sweet and salty Sakadane Sakura bun, which by all accounts tastes just as good as it did when it captured Japanese hearts a century and a half ago. Full of beans, next we headed to stationery store Ginza Itoya, itself over 100 years old, still treating customers with omotenashi courtesy and an eye-catching selection of goods, snacks and drinks. Ginza always did know how to delight its shoppers!
The sights at street level are undoubtedly splendid, with Ginza’s bold and beautiful architecture coming alive with light and color. To see more of what traditional interiors looked like we popped inside the Okuno building, built in 1932 as one of the area’s most luxurious apartment blocks, and visited former beauty parlor Room 306 . Then for a tour high point we took to the rooftop of the landmark Wako department store building, specially opened for our tour, where the iconic Seiko clock has stood as a Ginza symbol for near a century. So we really did get to see Ginza from all angles.
The itinerary alone is enough to make the trip worthwhile, a fresh look at places frequent visitors may have taken for granted or not seen in their full splendor. On top of this the charismatic guides stepped right out of the celluloid from the golden era of classic cinema and brought with them a magical story loaded with laughs and moments of wonder. I for one enjoyed dipping into to the exciting Ginza of centuries past, and found a new appreciation for its treasures that still remain today.
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