Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The new Ginza?

I am blogging on my birthday. Recently I have been going to Ginza at least once a month, for kimono events etc. Ginza has a reputation as being one of the most expensive places in Tokyo. I never used to go there, unless I had a visitor from abroad, because you need a mortgage to buy a cup of coffee. But since the 1980s, with the downturn in the economy, I think Ginza has been reinventing itself. Ginza reinvented itself after the great Kanto earthquake, the resulting fires from which burnt down much of Tokyo. At that time it was rebuilt in concrete and steel, and the first department stores were born in Japan. A cafe culture also grew up at that time, and women moved into the work force in large numbers, as secretaries, "office ladies", and waitresses. As women were able to move out of the home and into the workplace, they also had money to spend and could go shopping or watch movies. At that time, Ginza represented something modernistic and progressive, but over the years, this has become an area of tradition and history. Although the department stores originally had a democratizing role in fashion, Ginza became the area of the rich. My image has been that rather wealthy businessmen's rather rich wives could shop here. Increasingly though, the original department stores have been having a hard time, and with their images of high prices, and catering to the wealthy and not so young, have seen falling sales in recent years.
However, I notice many changes in Ginza. Yes, it is still the land of designer brands, but often in their own stores, rather than in the department stores. Apple opened its flagship store here, a five or six story glass box, and recently Abercrombie and Fitch have opened up a jean store. On entering, I was not sure if it was a shop or a club, with black shiny floors, floor lighting and reflective images everywhere. Their staff gyrate for you, great you in English and a godlike young Japanese man, of the "ikemen" type, wearing nothing but a pair of low, low, did I say low? rise jeans and his smooth copper suntan will stand near the entrance and take photos with screaming girls, lining up. The homo-erotic images are overt. This is as much a play land as a jeans shop. I felt quite disoriented, but I have passed too many birthdays to be able to think with this kind of music on, or see in this kind of lighting. (I am not sure where the clothes were hiding.) Not only fashionable stores aimed at the young, but stores known for their low prices have also appeared. Uniqlo obviously sells enough stuff to make up for its low priced fast fashion, and my students tell me that Forever 21 has a bigger store here than in Harajuku. Cool hunters are snapping away at the weekends, when the streets are closed to traffic, and Ginza seems to be attracting a younger crowd. Anything can happen, and I have no explanation for the man who chose to make his bed in the middle of the road, where he was carefully negotiated around, by curious shoppers, but not disturbed. Some Japanese can sleep anywhere! Pictures taken on various Saturday afternoons!

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