Tokyo, a city of one or two-storied buildings predominately constructed of wood, was frequently plagued with fires. After a particularly devastating fire that swept through the city in 1872, the government, seized the opportunity to both improve the appearance of the city and reduce the number of fires by passing an ordinance requiring most structures to be built of brick and stone. Thus by the 1870s, Western-style architecture was almost exclusively found in the district northwest of Tsukiji, sandwiched between Nihonbashi and Shinbashi, in this reconstructed area called Ginza.

The new Ginza boasted wide boulevards modelled on those of Paris, and brick Regency and Victorian-style architecture imitating nineteenth-century London designs. In fact, much of the reconstruction of the area was done by two English architects Thomas Waters and Josiah Condor. The long, cobbled or brick-paved avenues of houses and commercial buildings, lined with cherry and
Tokyo, a city of one or two-storied buildings predominately constructed of wood, was frequently plagued with fires. After a particularly devastating fire that swept through the city in 1872, the government, seized the opportunity to both improve the appearance of the city and reduce the number of fires by passing an ordinance requiring most structures to be built of brick and stone. Thus by the 1870s, Western-style architecture was almost exclusively found in the district northwest of Tsukiji, sandwiched between Nihonbashi and Shinbashi, in this reconstructed area called Ginza.

The new Ginza boasted wide boulevards modelled on those of Paris, and brick Regency and Victorian-style architecture imitating nineteenth-century London designs. In fact, much of the reconstruction of the area was done by two English architects Thomas Waters and Josiah Condor. The long, cobbled or brick-paved avenues of houses and commercial buildings, lined with cherry and

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Scenic View of Tokyo Enlightenment: Picture of Stone Construction at Kyobashi and Prosperity of Brick and Stone Shops on Both Sides of Ginza Street. The smaller cartouche indicates that the print was made in December 1874 by Utagawa Hiroshige III.

Utagawa Hiroshige III
Edo-Tokyo Museum
c. 1874
Woodblock print
8820846-48
© Edo-Tokyo Museum


Prints proudly advertised the recent successes of the Meiji period. Scenic View of Tokyo Enlightenment: Picture of Stone Construction at Kyobashi and Prosperity of Brick and Stone Shops on Both Sides of Ginza Street is a panoramic view of the Ginza district, that shows the new inner-city transportation system and utilities, and emphasizes the new architecture of Tokyo. These cityscapes illustrate the bustle of street-life, and convey the vitality and exhilaration that progress brought to Meiji Japan. During the 1870s, many prints were published to document this building boom.
Prints proudly advertised the recent successes of the Meiji period. Scenic View of Tokyo Enlightenment: Picture of Stone Construction at Kyobashi and Prosperity of Brick and Stone Shops on Both Sides of Ginza Street is a panoramic view of the Ginza district, that shows the new inner-city transportation system and utilities, and emphasizes the new architecture of Tokyo. These cityscapes illustrate the bustle of street-life, and convey the vitality and exhilaration that progress brought to Meiji Japan. During the 1870s, many prints were published to document this building boom.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Before planned development in the Meiji period, the Ginza had been a humble road on the outskirts of Edo. With an increased interest in Western goods and fashions, the newly developed Ginza gradually overtook Nihonbashi as the main shopping district. In truth, Ginza may not have been as glamorous as the printmakers would have us believe, and many of the street and architecture scenes are idealized, capturing the national enthusiasm for progress. Everyone wanted to look at the buildings, but not many wanted to live in them. As a result, street vendors, merchants, restaurants and theatres occupied the majority of these brick buildings. In fact, the Regency-style sweep of stone buildings portrayed here is far more glamorous than the actual Ginza street; much of the architecture was an eclectic mix of varied Victorian designs.
Before planned development in the Meiji period, the Ginza had been a humble road on the outskirts of Edo. With an increased interest in Western goods and fashions, the newly developed Ginza gradually overtook Nihonbashi as the main shopping district. In truth, Ginza may not have been as glamorous as the printmakers would have us believe, and many of the street and architecture scenes are idealized, capturing the national enthusiasm for progress. Everyone wanted to look at the buildings, but not many wanted to live in them. As a result, street vendors, merchants, restaurants and theatres occupied the majority of these brick buildings. In fact, the Regency-style sweep of stone buildings portrayed here is far more glamorous than the actual Ginza street; much of the architecture was an eclectic mix of varied Victorian designs.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Asakusa’s Ryounkaku, or Tower Soaring above the Clouds, was built in November 1890. This "cloudscraper", a twelve-story octagonal red brick building, incorporated the very first elevator in Japan and captured the imagination of all of Tokyo. The second to eighth floors featured wares from all over the world for sale, art exhibitions were held on the ninth floor, and the tenth floor served as an observation tower for curious sightseers. However, only two months after the tower’s opening, the elevator, which was imported from the United States, was shut down for safety reasons.
Asakusa’s Ryounkaku, or Tower Soaring above the Clouds, was built in November 1890. This "cloudscraper", a twelve-story octagonal red brick building, incorporated the very first elevator in Japan and captured the imagination of all of Tokyo. The second to eighth floors featured wares from all over the world for sale, art exhibitions were held on the ninth floor, and the tenth floor served as an observation tower for curious sightseers. However, only two months after the tower’s opening, the elevator, which was imported from the United States, was shut down for safety reasons.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Woodblock print

A Sugoroku Board of the Ryounkaku at Asakusa Park.

Utagawa Kunisada
Edo-Tokyo Museum
c. 1890
Woodblock print
8702202
© Edo-Tokyo Museum


Prior to the Meiji period, Japan, like most countries, relied on candles and oil-lamps for lighting. Lanterns hanging outside the shops beckoned customers, and flaring torches, lanterns, and sometimes even bonfires illuminated processions and other festivities held after dark. The gas lamps that began to light up the streets of Tokyo in 1874 became the pride of Tokyo citizens, who saw them as emblematic of Japan’s progress. Electric light was first introduced to Japan by the Tokyo Electric Light Company in 1882, and it gradually replaced the popular gas lamp on Tokyo streets.
Prior to the Meiji period, Japan, like most countries, relied on candles and oil-lamps for lighting. Lanterns hanging outside the shops beckoned customers, and flaring torches, lanterns, and sometimes even bonfires illuminated processions and other festivities held after dark. The gas lamps that began to light up the streets of Tokyo in 1874 became the pride of Tokyo citizens, who saw them as emblematic of Japan’s progress. Electric light was first introduced to Japan by the Tokyo Electric Light Company in 1882, and it gradually replaced the popular gas lamp on Tokyo streets.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Gas lamp

Meiji Mura Park

© Meiji Mura Park


Gas lamp

Meiji Mura Park

© Meiji Mura Park


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Describe the origins and development of the shopping district of Ginza
  • Describe the architecture of Tokyo in the late 19th century, giving examples of incorporation of Western styles in the Ginza district
  • Recognize the importance of the reconstruction of the Ginza district to the culture of the Meiji period
  • Recognize that the Ginza district was depicted in art in idealized form, and reflect on why this was so
  • Describe parallel aspects of cultural development in the late 19th century in the United States and Tokyo, citing specific examples

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