Ginzachō

Ginzachō

This nostalgic shopping arcade evokes memories of Japan’s dynamic postwar revival.

place Area: Hikone access_time Published: 2020.07.23

Name in Japanese: 銀座町
Pronunciation: ginzachō

Ginza is a shopping area in Hikone, located a short walk south of Hikone Castle. The area saw its greatest development in the postwar Shōwa period, and it still retains the atmosphere and charm of that time.

Around the time that the town around Hikone Castle developed, Kawara and Dobashi emerged as commercial areas. In 1951, the two areas merged to form the current Ginza shopping district.

In 1930, the Marubishi Department Store opened in the then Dobashi area. Then in 1963, Heiwado opened as the first supermarket with an escalator in Shiga Prefecture. From then until the early 1970s, around one billion yen was spent on urban planning to establish the area as a disaster-proof modern shopping area. But, from the latter half of the 1970s, the development of other shopping areas saw the gradual decline of Ginza.

Many of the shops are shuttered, but those that remain open are energetically pursuing business, and a movement is afoot to restore the area to its earlier liveliness. One of the most prominent shops is Gelateria Azzurro, which offers delicious, authentic Italian gelato in a range of tempting flavours.

The buildings on either side of the arcade are penetrated by tunnel-like walkways, some of which are home to hole-in-the-wall bars. Pass through one of these tunnels and you’ll see the dramatic mural of Ramen Maji, which serves very hearty noodles. Another wonderful eating experience is to be enjoyed behind the arcade at Waon, an izakaya that epitomises the Shōwa period. Try ordering some oden and sake.

Part of Ginza’s charm lies in its faded glory – the hand painted fonts on the rusted shutters were once avantgarde, and the straight, blocky lines of the concrete buildings, now stained and mottled, originally represented blessed modernity. On either side of the arcade are relics from a much older period. There are old temples and shrines, and a small wooded mound which is all that remains of the outer earthwork of Hikone Castle. Below this hummock is Yama no Yu, an old public bathhouse that once functioned as the social centre of the area.

Kojima Atsuko runs the Kojima Gallery in the Ginza arcade. She recalls the area some fifty years ago during her childhood.

Before the present concrete arcade was built, the only concrete buildings were the Marubishi Department Store and Shiga Bank. As a child, she played in one of the big wooden shops lining the street. “There was a cinema on the left side, and you could hear the opening songs. If you leaned out of the window, you could see the Marubishi Department Store on the right. If you looked down, you could hear the lively buzz of the shopping street and various sounds.

The other view from the second floor was the residential side. A room separated by a corridor. Looking out from there, you could see another world. There was a small mountain like a bush, and through the trees you could see Mt. Ibuki. I also remember that part of the outer moat of Hikone Castle was left, and there were some little wooden boats on it.

Next to it was the Yama no Yu baths. As shown in the paintings of master artist Ueda Michizō, baths were places of entertainment. For men, it was like a salon. They’d take a bath, cool off on the veranda, and play go. My grandfather only had a bath at home every other day, so he used to go to Yama no Yu for small talk and to gather information. You could see the benches over the moat from the second floor of my house. As a child, I remember being embarrassed to see the men nearly naked in their underpants. A gardener told me that he used to work for Yama no Yu. He would take a boat across to cut the grass on the other side of the moat. He said, “The scenery was just as wonderful as a painting.” The public bath was still bright and crowded with people when we went to bed. It was open until late, and when I couldn’t get to sleep and I looked out from the second floor, I could hear the cheerful music of “Rawhide” out of nowhere.

The Marubishi Department Store was demolished in 2008. Now it’s a big space with the blue sky above it. It’s as if nothing had ever been there. It’s sad.

When I was a child, Kawaramachi and Dobashi were Hikone’s main shopping area, and it was already lively. There was a resident clerk in each store, and everyone lived under the same roof. I grew up watching business. As a child, shops were already open when I woke up in the morning and they were still open when I went to sleep. I wondered if they were open all the time.”

Ebisu is the Japanese god of good fortune and wealth, who is revered by shopkeepers. One of Japan’s three major Ebisu festivals was held in Ginza.

“During the Ebisu festival, wholesalers would send people to help man the shops. Shopkeepers could sell one month’s worth of goods in the for four or five days of the festival. The road was shoulder to shoulder with people. At that time, it attracted shoppers from the north and west of Lake Biwa. Before the war, steamers on the lake made several round trips with passengers from the western side of Biwako.

At that time, there were rows of wooden shops, and the only concrete buildings were Shiga Bank and Marubishi. I can’t forget the splendour of Marubishi’s unique appearance. When I was a child, my grandfather had a store there, so he often took me along and I played on the swings on the roof. Looking towards Mt. Kojin from there, there were almost no houses beyond the Seri River, only rice fields. It was especially beautiful at dusk when it looked just like a picture. There was a diner on the 3rd floor called the “Star Diner”. At that time, eating out was rare, and going up the long stairs to get there felt like going to a different world.

My father, who was a child at that time, recalled, “In the winter the department store was heated with steam radiators, so I went there to get warm. In the summer, I played in the wooden pool on the rooftop and had curry and rice in the diner. I was fascinated when I saw a cash register for the first time.”

Marubishi was built in 1933 by ten investors from Hikone. At that time, it was very rare for a department store to open in a small or medium-sized city. The predecessor of Itojū recorded it on 9-5 mm film, which was rare at that time, and you can see it at Itoya Jūbē on Castle Road. It’s a valuable video showing the enthusiasm of the people at the time, from the groundbreaking festival to the opening of the store, the state of the city, and the parade for the second anniversary of the opening.”

When Marubishi was demolished, Kojima went to the site and took a chunk of the concrete rubble. She keeps it on a shelf in her office as a reminder that the department store was really there.