In Ginza is a district of Chūō, Tokyo that is most famously known as an upscale shopping and entertainment district boasting various department stores, art boutiques, designer shops, galleries, nightclubs, and restaurants. Historically, Ginza was the previous site of a silver coin mint (until the 1800s), which is where the district got its name, literally translating to “silver mint” in Japanese. Ginza is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Tokyo, with one square meter of land being rumored to be worth over ten million yen. As the main shopping area of the city, foreigners and locals alike flock to Ginza usually with the goal of spending serious yen for luxury brand goods and gourmet food. However, you can explore Ginza and spend ¥1,000 or less for an afternoon in this affluent “silver” district.
Start with Lunch: Cheap Ginza Eats
Despite the fact that Ginza contains many of Japan’s Michelin-starred restaurants, eating in Ginza is not only for rich people. Most of the restaurants are incredibly pricey, but there are some options which are very affordable. Chaojan is a Taiwanese restaurant near Higashi Ginza station which serves authentic Taiwanese dishes including dim sum. Chaojan offers a lunch deal every day (from 11:30 to 15:00) for only ¥500 and includes free hot tea.
In case you want to stick to Japanese food, you can try Dai-Dai near Ginza station for affordable yet authentic food along with many sake options. Dai-dai also offers a lunch deal for ¥500 between 11:30 and 14:30, but the wine and sake prices are not included. Finally, near Higashi Ginza station, Kabuki Soba offers low-price soba well-know and well-loved by locals. Soba from Kabuki is as little as ¥450 depending on the soba type and toppings you choose. Just remember to save your remaining ¥500 for happy hour later in the day!
Affordable Art and Photography
Once you get your cheap eats fill, head over to the Wako department store located right at the main intersection in Ginza, opposite from the Mitsukoshi department store. Interestingly, one of the best places to see art is in one of the most expensive places in the city: at the center of Ginza. Many of the department stores and some of the luxury or high-fashion brands located in Ginza host free exhibits, displays, or singular pieces from Japanese and foreign artists or designers. Wako, Mitsukoshi, Chanel, and Hermes all typically boast free displays which offer not only an affordable way to see art in Tokyo, but a great opportunity for a selfie!
Alternatively, you can check out a free photography exhibition at the Leica shop in Ginza or Ginza Nikon Salon. The Ginza Graphic Gallery also periodically offers free graphic design exhibits if you’re more interested in advertising or typography and color. Even better yet, head outside to view outdoor sculptures and other public pieces. I recommended checking out one of the most well-known public art pieces in Tokyo, the “Young Clock Tower” (pronounced in Japanese as “wakai tokei-dai” or 若い時計台), which was created by one of the most iconic modern Japanese artists, Taro Okamoto, and is located in Ginza’s Sukiyabashi Park.
Window Shopping and Pedestrian Parades
When you’ve perused enough free art in the area, move on to some window shopping or if you prefer, people-watching! Although most of the shops in Ginza are open every day of the week, window shopping and people-watching are especially good on weekend afternoons when Chuo Dori street closes to vehicular traffic and becomes a pedestrian-only area. This street houses high-fashion brands like Prada and Dior, but more importantly, attracts the kinds of people who can shop at those stores. You can enjoy street fashion in this area and you might even spot a celebrity!
Apart from the window shopping and dreaming of the all the couture items you wish you could buy (or alternatively, making fun of the wacky styles and colors of the high-fashion world), when Chuo Dori closes to automobiles on weekends, street performers and other artists can often be spotted among the crowds, creating an even livelier and exciting atmosphere. Even though it can get crowded, this is a fun activity whether you’re alone, on a date, or with family; you’ll see that Chuo Dori attracts all kinds of people from many different walks of life.
Retreat to a Garden Oasis
Once you tire yourself out walking around Ginza’s art and shops, take a break in Hamarikyu Gardens at the southern edge of Ginza. The closest station is Shiodome Station, but the short travel to this park is well worth it. Hamarikyu Gardens offers an oasis away from the usual hustle and bustle of Ginza and not only that, it’s a very unique park. Surrounding a saltwater pond, Hamarikyu Gardens draws in water from Tokyo Bay which means it is possible to spot saltwater creatures in the pond if it is a clear day! If you don’t like marine creatures, you can simply relax in the park or visit the teahouse which is situated in the middle of the pond.
Catch the Happiest Hours
Before you leave Ginza, stop by one of the most surprisingly affordable bars in Tokyo, The Three Hundred Bar (Ginza Standing Bar), in which, you guessed it, all drinks are ¥300. This bar was established in 1992 and boasts being the only establishment in Japan to be awarded by the Cuban Embassy, and purportedly sells 40,000 mojitos per year. For ¥300, why not try one? They also offer beer, whiskey, and a full cocktail menu with specials. Most importantly, happy hour, or rather happy hours, is from 12:00 until 19:00, giving you plenty of time to cash in on cheap drinks before heading home.
Ginza may seem like an upscale and inaccessible neighborhood to explore but there is a lot to do for free (or for very cheap). These are only a few of the fun yet affordable activities this district offers but however you spend your time in Ginza, you are sure to leave feeling like a million yen.
ADP / United States
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