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There was a fire in 1872. It burnt down most of the area. After the fires, the Meiji government designated the Ginza area as a "model of modernization." The government planned the construction of fireproof brick buildings, and larger, better streets connecting the Shimbashi Station and the foreign concession in Tsukiji, as well as to important government buildings. Designs for the area were provided by the Irish-born architect Thomas Waters; the Bureau of Construction of the Ministry of Finance was in charge of construction. In the following year, a Western-style shopping promenade on the street from the Shinbashi bridge to the Kyōbashi bridge in the southwestern part of Chūō with two- and three-story Georgian brick buildings was completed.
"Bricktown" buildings were initially offered for sale, later they were leased, but the high rent meant that many remained unoccupied. Not only that but they were not adapted to the climate and its design contrasted the Japanese notion of a place to live in. That is to say, it was nice to look at, but not to live in. The new Ginza was not popular with foreigners, who were looking for a more Edo styled city. Isabella Bird visited in 1878 and in 1880 implied that Ginza was less like an Oriental city than like the outskirts of Chicago or Melbourne. Philip Terry, the English writer of tour guides, likened it to Broadway, and not in a positive sense. Nevertheless, the area flourished as a symbol of "civilisation and enlightenment", thanks to the presence of newspapers and magazine companies, who led the trends of the day. The area was also known for its window displays, an example of modern marketing techniques. Everyone visited and so the custom of "killing time in Ginza" developed strongly between the two world wars.
Most of these European-style buildings disappeared, but some older buildings still remain, most famously the Wakō building with the now-iconic Hattori Clock Tower. The building and clock tower were originally built by Kintarō Hattori, the founder of Seiko.
Its recent history has seen it as a prominent outpost of western luxury shops. Ginza is a popular destination on weekends, when the main north-south artery is closed to traffic. The traffic blockade began in the 1960s under governor Ryokichi Minobe.
Many leading fashion houses' flagship stores are located here, being also recognized as having the highest concentration of western shops in Tokyo. It is one of two locations, in Tokyo, considered by Chevalier to be the best location for a luxury-goods store. Prominent are Chanel, Carolina Herrera, Dior, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. Flagship electronic retail stores like the Sony showroom and the Apple Store are also here. Ricoh is headquartered in the Ricoh Building in Ginza. The neighborhood is a major shopping district. It is home to Wako department store, which is located in a building dating from 1894. The building has a clock tower. There are many department stores in the area, including Hankyu, Seibu, and Matsuya Co.. There are also art galleries.
Each Saturday and Sunday, from 12:00 noon until 5:00 pm, the main street through Ginza is closed off to road traffic, allowing people to walk freely. This is called Hokōsha Tengoku (歩行者天国?) or Hokoten for short, literally meaning "pedestrian heaven".
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