Who hasn’t heard of Tokyo’s Ginza district? A globally renowned glitzy mecca for high-end shopping and fine dining. A must on the list of places to visit for tourists. But there is a side to Ginza that few people ever see. In fact, I doubt that most visitors are even aware of its existence. I’m talking about the intricate artery of narrow alleys that lead to the back entrances of the shops, bars and restaurants.
Ginza’s hidden back streets
These alleys are often difficult to find, since there are no signs. They are sometimes so narrow that only one person can pass at a time. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll simply walk straight by their entrances without noticing. Once you find one of them though, they are easy enough to follow. The reason is that Ginza is built like an almost perfect grid, with its center point at the Mitsukoshi Department Store, on the 4-chome Crossing of Chuo Dori and Harumi Dori. It’s totally different from for instance Shibuya, where you are almost certain to get lost on the winding back streets…
I visit Ginza probably a couple of days per week for my business, since I need to stay aware of any newly opened stores, or other changes in the fashion and retail scene. I sometimes use these back alleys as shortcuts. Late in the afternoon, when the main streets are the most crowded, they are perfect for getting around quickly!
Another side of Ginza
The late afternoon is often also the time when there is also a lot of activity in the back alleys. That’s when you see for instance some junior chef of a sushi restaurant, wearing his crisp white apron, taking a quick smoking break safely out of sight of his boss, or the staff of some luxury fashion boutique making a discreet phone call to her recruiting agent to try to land a job with a rival brand, or the owner of some exclusive bar taking a quick nap, sitting out on the steps of the emergency staircase in the back, before welcoming his first customers of the evening.
As a word of warning, since the back alleys are often used for deliveries to the shops and restaurants, and also for taking out the garbage, if you’re not a fan of their other inhabitants, namely cockroaches and sometimes rats, I would not recommend a visit!
Yes, there are shops there!
Many of the back alleys simply serve the function of providing easy access to the rear of the buildings. You’ll be surprised though, that a lot of them actually have well-hidden away bars and restaurants. These tend to be frequented only by customers who are aware of their existence… Actually, in many cases they don’t even have signs out on the street!
For anyone who has seen Ginza’s “front end”, I’d definitely recommend taking a peek into these back alleys. Not only will you get another perspective of the area, but you’ll also get some insight into the daily grind of the staff making the commerce of Ginza come alive.