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Ginza VR

The Tokyo Time Machine Project aims to create an immersive urban experience that feels as if one is truly time traveling. It does so by constructing an immersive virtual urban environment using innovative VR technology which is advancing every day. Another goal of this project is to seek out the possibilities of using VR technology to represent urban spaces.

As a first step, the three time periods of Edo (1850s), Meiji (1910s), and Showa (1940s) were established, centered around the Ginza 4-chome intersection in Tokyo's Chuo Ward. Endeavoring to recreate each era in VR as accurately as possible, research on each era's buildings, transportation infrastructure, attire, and other details was undertaken using maps, illustrations, photos, and historical records.


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Mitsukoshi Ginza Store during the Showa period (around 1940)

The exterior and the ground floor of the Mitsukoshi Ginza Store from the Showa period (around 1940), were recreated with reference to materials from multiple stores of the early Showa period owned by Mitsukoshi Isetan Holdings Corporation. These materials include photographs, drawings, floor maps, and illustrations. Additionally, the layout represents a fictional arrangement of various product categories that were present in department stores during the early Showa period, consolidated on the ground floor.

Open VR webpage

mitsukoshi exterior

Historical events around Ginza 4-chome intersection

From the Edo era through to the present, the target area of Ginza 4-chome intersection has undergone 3 large changes in form with the "Great Ginza Fire" in early Meiji, the "Great Kanto Earthquake" in the Taisho era, and damage sustained during World War 2 in Showa.
The time periods just before each of these major change-inducing events--end of Edo (roughly 1850), end of Meiji (roughly 1910), and the beginning of Showa before damage from the war (roughly 1940) were selected for representation in VR in order to best reproduce how the area looked before it was altered.

Year & Dates Historical events
March 24th, 1608 Ieyasu Tokugawa was appointed to be the new "Shogun", and the Shogunate (government) was established in Edo (current Tokyo).
1612 Ieyasu Tokugawa relocates the silver mint (silver coin factory) which was founded in Sunpu (current Shizuoka prefecture) to the current Ginza 2-chome location. In this period, an organization which produced silver coins was called "Ginza" and organizations which produced gold coins were called "Kinza". The area where this new silver mint was founded was hereinafter commonly called "Ginza".
The prosperity in Edo After the foundation of "Ginza", the area became popular for many artisans, including those associated with silver casting. Also, because this place was very close to Nihonbashi, which was the starting point of the "Tokaido", many stores gathered, and the area became very prosperous. Owari-cho (current Ginza 5-chome) was especially prosperous, and had famous stores such as "Ebisuya", "Kameya", and "Hoteiya" which had a similar scale and fame to the very famous "Mitsui-Echigoya".
This area also gathered many talented people related to culture and art, such as "Noh actors" and "Geisha", as well as the "Kanoh School" artists.
1800 Due to the various fraudulent acts of "Ginza" officers, the Ginza silver mint was relocated to Kakigara-cho (current Nihonbashi-Ningyocho). After this move, the Ginza area became gradually obsolete.
October 23rd, 1868 An imperial decree "Issei-ichigen-no-mikotonori", which determined the exisitng "Keio year 4" as "Meiji year 1" was issued, and the new period, "Meiji", begins.
April 3rd, 1872 The Great Ginza Fire
A fire breaks out from the former Aizu daimyo spare residence (current outer garden of the imperial palace). This fire then spread and burned out Marunouchi, Tsukiji, and Ginza, all making up the central area of Tokyo.
Due to this great fire, Tokyo-fu (Tokyo government) established a new urban plan called "Ginza Brick Town" which aimed to expand the streets and build fire resistent western style buildings using bricks as the primary material.
The prosperity in Meiji The year when the "Ginza Brick Town" plan started,was also the year when Japan's first railway was opened between Shinbashi and Yokohama. Since the Ginza area was located in front of this new Shinbashi station, various western restaurants, bakeries, bag shops, watch shops, and clothing shops which imported new goods and products from overseas had gathered together.
The Ginza area also attracted many newspaper and magazine companies, representing more than half of all newspaper companies which existed in Tokyo in the 1880's.
By late Meiji, large scale retail stores called "Kankoh-ba" (similar to current department stores) has started to establish themsevles in the area. In this way Ginza attracted an increasing number of people to the area.
September 10th, 1923 The Great Kanto Earthquake
A huge earthquake which caused enormous damage to Tokyo and Kanagawa as well as the surrounding prefectures occurred. The "Ginza Brick Town" was also destroyed, burning down because of this disaster.
The prosperity from Taisho to Showa After the "Great Kanto Earthquake", Tokyo city (current Tokyo 23 wards) established a reconstruction plan. Due to this plan, Ginza area's Harumi-dori was expanded, and a new wide street called Showa-dori was created. Since the stores locatied on Ginza-dori were very active in the restoration, the area was soon bustling again.
During this restoration period, various department stores started to establish their presence in the area. In 1924 "Matsuzakaya" opened their store, followed by "Matsuya" in 1925, and "Mitsukoshi" in 1930. The "Wako Clock Tower" which is still recognized as a symbol in Ginza today, has opened in 1932.
Due to the continuous openings of new department stores, Ginza successfully attracted new customers to the area, and the gross real estate rent price became the highest in Japan by 1929, exceeding Nihonbashi which had been the highest for a long time.
1945 The damage sustained during World War 2
On January 27th, 1945, a United States' B-29 conducted a bombing raid over Hibiya, Yuraku-cho, and Ginza. This incident was later called the "Ginza Air Raid". One of the bombs fell near the Ginza 4-chome intersection, and destroyed the subway entrance, burning out several buildings including the "Kyukyodo" building which was located nearby. There were also several more air raids in March and May of the same year, eventualy causing the destruction of most of the Ginza area.
The restoration after the war,
rapid economic growth,
and transforming towards the present
"Hattori Watch Store", and "Matsuya Department Store" were requisitioned by the United States army after the war, but were returned to Japan in 1952, the year following the "Treaty of Peace with Japan (Sept. 8th, 1951)". After this return, an earnest post war restoration had begun.

Rivers surrounding Ginza had been landfilled with war debris, and the main mode of transportation shifted from boats to cars.

Due to the rapidly expanding subway systems, and traffic congestion in the streets of which they were a cause, trams were abolished by 1967. Up until then, they had been an important mode of transportation for the people in the area.

After the trams were abolished, Ginza-dori had a great restoration, moving telegraph poles and cables from above ground to underground utility tunnels, and reusing paving stones originally used for the tram rails for pedestrian pathways. The "Pedestrian Paradise" which takes place on Ginza every Sunday and holiday today, was first implemented after this restoration in August, 1970.

After the rapid economic growth period which took place from the 1950s to 1970s, Ginza experienced a deregulation of building codes in the late 1980s (the "Bubble Economy" period) which resulted in various redevelopment projects. This led to the current Ginza cityscape as we see it today.


Edo era
Meiji era
Showa era

Last updated:August 18th 2023
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