When on holidays I take both my iPhone and my Olympus M4/3 camera kit, the Oly gets a workout on the more serious stuff, mainly when I need more reach or better low light capability, and the iPhone serves for most everything else. I thought some of my readers might be interested in seeing a little photo story of the Ginza district in Tokyo captured on my iPhone while my wife and I wandered the shiny streets of Ginza. I have another version of this article on my regular site with some extra pics taken on the Olympus EM5 MK 2, you can check that out here:
Ginza is 87 hectares of high end, over the top, consumerist worshipping retail nirvana for Japanese with money to burn and a need to proclaim their superior economic status. The greater Ginza area provides a fascinating insight into the culture of modern Japan and presents photographers with a veritable feast of options, both for the tummy and the lens.
My wife and I along with our Son Aaron and his partner Jain spent 6 days in Tokyo recently, staying in a hotel in Ginza. https://www.gardenhotels.co.jp/eng/millennium-tokyo/ . The lodgings were superb and ideally located for access to the Ginza district, subway system and great eateries where you can exercise your gastronomic muscles.
Like many high-end shopping precincts around the world, Ginza is dripping with the usual brands, except perhaps the presentation is little more excessive than usual. Considering that Ginza is home to some of the worlds most expensive retail real estate in “dollars per meter squared” terms, that excessiveness becomes all the more impressive, especially when you compare the retail space sizes to the residential spaces of Japanese units and homes.
Ah Ginza, it’s all “be-on-neon, sidewalk fashion parade and busy with a purpose”. But, my friends, in case you think it would be like, say Times Square or some similar location in other parts of the western world be assured that Ginza has a flavour that is entirely different and in many ways uniquely Japanese, which is what makes it so fascinating.
First the familiar, Ginza is devoted to the church of conspicuous consumption and the brands of choice are the same as almost everywhere else, Cartier, Hermes, Prada, Gucci and all the other usual suspects. Most of the shoppers are women, and indeed most of the stores are aimed at women, and of course, there are a lot of very nicely dressed people parading under the bright evening lights.
As always the store window displays are works of art but not dissimilar to the same store displays in other locations around the world, as you might expect in these days of corporate uniformity and branding.
The whole Ginza edifice is built on the concept of consumption rather than materialism, the joy is in the shopping, browsing, touching, and ultimately parading the high-end bags along the streets post-purchase. Of course, most non-food purchases fall into the category of a “declaration of status” rather than fulfilling any real need for body covering, personal hygiene or life’s practical necessities.
I read an interesting article yesterday on the issue of consumerism and materialism, it’s well worth a look if you have the time and probably typifies the drive behind Ginza more than anywhere else in the world except perhaps Dubai.
But now for something completely different. Ginza is also home to some incredible Japanese department stores that sell brands and foods that are uniquely Japanese, examples being Mitsukoshi, Matsuya and Wako. You may not wish to buy anything at all, but I promise a walk through the food halls alone will leave the average westerner agog at the quality and presentation of the foods and even more impressed at the range on offer.
Beyond the department stores, you have speciality shops that are uniquely Japanese, such as the G.Itoya stationary store and Hakuhinkan toy store (or more accurately, emporium).
It is possible to explore Ginza at a subterranean level moving from shop to department store etc. via the subway paths, convenient in Typhoons and many folk choose this option to avoid traffic and crossings. Move out onto the streets, and you’ll notice several other aspects. First, while there are a few high-end European cars, the vast majority of vehicles are taxis, and almost all of them are black old-school Toyota Crowns that seem ideally suited to their purpose and are immaculately clean. In fact, all vehicles in Tokyo including commercial trucks seem to be fresh from the carwash, which may be a little thing perhaps but quite profound when compared to cars in most cities around the world. The link below will give you some insight into the Tokyo taxis.
Private passenger vehicles in Ginza tend to by high-end Toyotas and Lexus, there are few other brands on display, maybe the occasional high-end Nissan, and frankly, I think about half the worlds fleet of Lexus HL600s must reside in Ginza alone.
The most unique Japanese vehicle you’ll see in Ginza are the Toyota Century sedans, Japans most prestigious vehicle and almost always chauffeur driven. The conservative but exquisitely built Century is the vehicle of choice for CEOs, Government Officials and the very wealthy, it’s the ultimate Japanese automotive statement. Oddly a Century with the Chauffeur in situ seems able to be parked anywhere with complete immunity from harassment by Police or parking officers. The Century looks bland in photos, but in reality, upon the Ginza pavement, a century seems imposing, regal and stylish in an old school way.
Your ears will notice, or should that be, not notice something else. For such a busy place the traffic seems remarkably quiet, no loud exhausts and definitely no horns, in our entire time there I only recall hearing a car horn on a couple of occasions. Generally, cars are driven in a calm, sedate and orderly fashion, the complete opposite to what you might experience in say, Rome.
The streets are a combination of broad avenues and narrow thoroughfares, and most are one way, but regardless of width, they are spotlessly clean, absent of buskers, beggars, pavement furniture, advertising boards and other physical impediments.
People move with purpose, but in an orderly fashion, there’s no pushing and shoving, talking loudly on phones, or aloud to one another, you could say those manners are pivotal to daily life in Ginza, but that’s true of Japan generally.
Regarding fashion, Ginza is conservative, the Japanese women do not flaunt sexuality but rather dress immaculately in beautiful materials, exquisitely cut and tastefully trimmed with discrete jewellery, refinement is a word that sums up the style. Men tend towards the universal black suit, black shoes and white shirt, in other words, the typical business uniform one would expect to see in the financial districts of Manhatten.
Of course, Ginza is not all about shopping, there’s much eating to be done as well. From the food halls in the basements of the department stores, through to the myriad of speciality restaurants, there’s an option for almost every palette, except perhaps for those looking for typical American style fast food. KFC and McDonalds are present but much rarer than in other cities.
One constant however are coffee shops, there are Starbucks and equivalent style shops on every block, but I’d say for “Coffee Culture” loving Aussies like ourselves the coffee is generally a disappointment except for a few specialist coffee shops.
Ginza is close to many of the other Tokyo delights such as the Imperial Palace and Gardens, the Fish Market, Tokyo Tower and a wealth of other tourist delights. The metro system is highly efficient and cheap, placing you within striking distance of almost anything you could wish to see within around 30 mins or maybe less. For Aussies used to the vagaries of Sydney trains and buses, forget everything you have ever experienced, Tokyo despite its massive 24 million population just works, on time, every time!
Just to finish up on the technical side of things, the pics are mostly DNG captures, but there are some JPEGs shot on the standard app when it suited, and the multiple exposures were all JPEGs shot using Average Cam Pro. As always the DNG files were extracted in Lightroom Mobile (now known as Lightroom CC), and I’ve done a little fine tuning on Snapseed. The frames were created in Photoshop on the PC, and in some cases, a few small selective edits were made while there.
Don’t forget you can learn how to make your RAW, DNG iPhone files rock by purchasing my “Ultimate iPhone DNG” book from the iBooks store. It’s the most comprehensive eBook around on the use of DNG on the iPhone and is the first in a series of 6 planned iPhone Photography publications from Zero One Imaging.
Buy it on the iBooks Store, click on this link: