One of the most famous districts of Tokyo, Japan, and one of the most popular places in the world to buy expensive stuff made by famous designers.
Ginza did not physically exist until the early 1600s. Naturally, the area was part of Edo (now Tokyo) Bay, and Edo Castle (now the Imperial Palace) was waterfront property. When Tokugawa Ieyasu gained control of Japan and established his capital at the castle, he had the area filled in with box-shaped islands so that the castle could not be easily attacked from the water. The new land was used to provide housing for samurai families.
The name "Ginza" literally means "silver mint." In 1612, Tokugawa established a national silver mint in the area, and designated it as "Shin-Ryogaecho" or the "New Money-changers' District." Over time, this somewhat clunky name wore off and the area became simply known as "Ginza." Through the end of the Edo period, it was more or less the center of the Japanese economy.
Ginza burned to the ground in 1872, just a few years after the Tokugawa government was overthrown. This disaster came at a fortuitous time, as the new Meiji government wanted to Westernize Japan. They commissioned a British architect, Thomas Waters, to re-plan Ginza as a European-style city center. The newly-rebuilt Ginza became famous throughout Japan, and "Ginza" soon became a common word for any place that was crowded with people.
The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 leveled Ginza again, and the area was rebuilt as a shopping and entertainment district, with several enormous department stores and hundreds of small boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Ginza survived World War II and remained a commercial center during the American occupation in the late 1940s, with the Matsuya department store serving as a central commissary for US troops.
During the bubble economy of the late 1980s, property values in Ginza were among the highest in the world (surpassed in Tokyo only by the Marunouchi district).
Ginza is defined as a box-shaped area between the elevated Tokyo Expressway to the west, the sunken Shuto Expressway to the east, Kyobashi to the north and Shinbashi to the south.
It is perhaps one of the only places in Tokyo that has a logical layout when viewed on a map. The streets follow a grid, with minor deviations, skewed a few degrees clockwise from the compass rose, somewhat like the layout of midtown Manhattan. There are three major north-south thoroughfares: Sotobori-dori, Chuo-dori and Showa-dori. The main road going east to west is Harumi-dori.
Ginza is divided into eight chome, numbered from north to south. An address in Ginza 1-chome is at the north end, and an address in Ginza 8-chome is at the south end; the first digit in a Ginza address therefore gives you a rough idea of where a building is located on the north-south axis, while the second digit tells you where a building is located on the east-west axis (Chuo-dori being at about 9 or 10).
The center of Ginza is the Ginza 4-chome Crossing, located at the intersection of Harumi-dori and Chuo-dori. The Wako department store occupies the north corner, the Mitsukoshi department store occupies the east corner, the Nissan Plaza occupies the south corner and the San-Ai building occupies the west corner. When people meet up in Ginza, they often pick one of these corners as a meeting point, with Wako and Mitsukoshi being the most popular (as judged by the number of people who are hanging around there at any one time).
On Sundays, Chuo-dori is closed to vehicular traffic and becomes a "pedestrian heaven." Just about every major designer brand has a store on Chuo-dori, whether it's Louis Vuitton or Burberry or Salvatore Ferragamo. Tokyo's main Apple store is located on Chuo-dori as well (and has free wi-fi).
Farther east on Harumi-dori is the Kabukiza, where tourists go to watch Kabuki and scratch their heads. Go a bit farther east and you reach Tsukiji, home of the best sushi on Earth.
If you're visiting Tokyo, you can reach Ginza by taking the Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line or Hibiya Line, or by walking from Yurakucho on the Yamanote Line. Tokyo Station is also within walking distance unless you're a real wimp (in which case I recommend Texas).