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Learning from the Old to Create the New at GINZA SIX

Mika Kitamura

Ginza Six Editors Vol.78

“Ginza has everything,” remarked a Kabuki actor I interviewed around 20 years ago. “It’s got the whole lot, doesn’t it? From specialist tabi (Japanese socks) stores and kimono boutiques to places where you can buy everyday food ingredients to high-quality restaurants.” He is right. In Ginza, I buy some food on my way back from work or pick out gifts for my friends or family. I also go to Ginza frequently to attend meetings at cafés, take in plays, or dine on celebratory occasions. I grew up in Tokyo, but this may be the district I visit most. And now there’s a great new destination for me: GINZA SIX, the whole of Ginza distilled into one place containing more than 240 stores of quite remarkable variety. I have an afternoon meeting today, so around lunchtime I wander over to GINZA SIX. As a food journalist, I start by checking out the restaurants and cafés. “Oh, this place would be perfect for my next meeting,” I think.

My first stop is a café at Nakamura Tokichi Honten on the fourth floor. Specializing in Uji tea (a tea from Uji in Kyoto prefecture), it was founded in Uji in 1854, the first year of the Ansei era. The phrase Saen Eijitsu Kanbashi (aroma of tea on a long spring day), inscribed on a scroll presented as a gift from Katsu Kaishuu, was adopted as the family motto, and gifts of tea were offered to the emperor. The name of the tea blend was chosen by a tea ceremony master. The company has been in the tea business ever since. This is the same teahouse that came up with the revolutionary idea of combining matcha (powdered green tea) and ganache some 20 years ago, an innovation that quickly became popular. Today, I take a seat by the window, where I can look down on the brick-paved Azuma Street. The street is just 100 meters long or so, but it has a shop I like and an atmosphere that evokes the history of Ginza. This place is one of the best-kept secrets for teatime in Ginza.

There’s a tea set on the table. “This is the tea of the day,” I’m told. You can try various teas that change each day. Today’s is Nakamura-cha, the representative brand sold by Nakamura Tokichi Honten, a blend of seven types of medium- and high-grade tea. In the world of tea, the term gogumi describes the blending of tea.

It’s just before lunchtime. Looking at the menu, I decide I feel like eating something with a Kyoto flavor. I choose Pacific herring with matcha soba (1,204 yen; all prices listed before tax). Matcha is kneaded into the soba flour. The dish also features slightly sweet and tender simmered Pacific herring. The flavor of the dashi seeps deep into the body. Served as a side dish, the Murakamijyu Honten pickles are great for cleansing your palate. These are flavors you would normally encounter only in Kyoto. At all the other branches, including the main store in Uji, the server says, the dish is only offered in the autumn. Here at Ginza, it’s served year round. In Tokyo, and especially in Ginza, Kansai-style soba is rare. The restaurant is also renowned for its desserts, but this very soba will set it apart as a café I plan to return to in the future.

Still, what ends up catching my eye is the parfait. It’s topped with fresh whipped cream, on top of which the teahouse emblem, a cross inside a circle, is beautifully drawn with matcha. The parfait contains layers of matcha chiffon cake, matcha ice cream, Shiratama dango (sweet rice dumplings), namacha (freshly picked tea leaves) jelly, and matcha soft serve ice cream. There’s also crunchy wheat arare (bite-sized crackers) and raspberries, as well as candied chestnuts and Tanba Dainagon azuki beans, all of it building to a tea-flavored symphony. The sweetness is just right and the flavors subtle: the mellow deliciousness of the tea stands out. Even though I’ve just had soba, I find myself gulping it down. (Maruto parfait [matcha]) (1,297 yen).

The interior features tables and counter seats arranged in a U. Guests included those on their own, parents with children, and groups. It gets crowded at lunchtime, so I recommend going in the morning.

You also have to try the Nakamura Tokichi Honten tea! They have every variety you can imagine. The medium-grade tea balances sweetness, richness, and bitterness. The premium tea presents the depth you associate with Uji tea. There’s also roasted tea, which has a milder flavor. All this is explained to me by Haruna Hino, the manager, who demonstrated a wealth of product knowledge and genuine affection for the products—a level of care that attests to the sincerity of the teahouse.

This is the “nama-chacolate” (the term “chacolate” coined from cha, the Japanese word for tea, and “chocolate”) (1,200 yen) I reported on 20 years ago. Right from the beginning, the goal was to achieve a singular, authentic flavor. I remember being struck by the potential of the long-established teahouse. The humorous naming of the product was also clever and made me chuckle. Nowadays the teahouse offers a range of popular products, most notably the namacha jelly, for which waiting lines form, as well as matcha castella cake and matcha cheesecake with candied chestnut.

Anticipation builds as you pull aside a large noren (curtain hung at the entrance to traditional shops in Japan) that is the hallmark of long-established shops.

The fourth floor, where Nakamura Tokichi Honten is located, is also home to fashion and lifestyle stores. Strolling around, I come across one of my favorites: Helen Kaminski. Around ten years ago, when I traveled to and from Australia for work, I bought a hat at one of the stores there. I still wear it all the time. The brand traces its roots to 1983, when founder Helen Kaminski handcrafted a raffia hat to shield her children from the searing Australian sun.

I got a pet dog recently, and I’ve been looking for a hat I can wear when I take it for walks. I’m drawn to the ones with wide brims. I soon find one I like, the Acheron (38,000 yen). It has a classic profile and a leather band.

The Sisley (38,000 yen) is unique for its handwoven pattern. All the hats are made from natural materials. This one is made of raffia. Apparently, the designer went looking for the finest raffia and settled on one made in Madagascar. As the years pass, the color may change, but this adds to the brand’s authentic character.

The brand recently launched this year’s spring/summer collection. The hats currently on display have a variety of hues; you’ll find pale tones, too. This greige shade is elegant. The Kirsten sun visor (21,000 yen) has been one of the brand’s most popular products in recent years. But the hat I want the most is the classic Provence 12 (30,000 yen) shown in the photograph below. I have the same one with a narrower brim. It can be rolled up for storage, which makes it a travel essential. This one has a wider brim, which can be turned up or down to suit the light, the elements, or the mood.

The staff presented words on proper hat care. If the hat loses its shape, you can restore it yourself by applying steam. You can also bring it in to the store, where the staff will do it for you. The neoprene band inside the hat can be replaced (for a fee). This attentive service helps explain why it’s such a long-established hat brand.

After choosing my hat, it’s time to head down to the basement to buy some presents. I go to the food area on the second belowground floor, a place I visit frequently. I realize that Ginza Kyoka Suigetsu, a karintou (fried dough cake) shop, is a new brand operated by Kagetsu, a long-established karintou shop in Yushima that I love. It’s amazing to have come all this way only to find a store, the company’s first in Ginza, selling the karintou I’ve been eating for decades. I just have to buy some!

Three types are sold under the new brand. From the front of the photograph, the first one is Ama. Amazake (sweet sake) is kneaded into the dough, which is coated with Japanese roasted soy flour. Next is Kohaku (middle), for which glutinous rice is added to wheat flour, which is then fried and glazed to create a light, crunchy texture. They’re small, convenient bite sizes. And, finally there’s Mayuzumi, for which black sesame seeds are made into a paste, which is mixed with sugar glaze. The flavor and texture of each is a slight departure from conventional karintou.

A limited-edition assortment (1,950 yen) is available to celebrate the second anniversary of GINZA SIX. It features an eye-catching illustration, apparently drawn by third-generation president Tomohiro Mizoguchi that mixes old Edo with modern Ginza. I wish it were available all the time, not just for a limited period. Ginza is a treasure trove for presents, and I’m definitely making a note of the karintou here!

I strolled around GINZA SIX for about two hours. All three stores I visited are places I knew about before. Each has a long history, but they aren’t content to rest on their laurels. Quite the opposite: they’re choosing to evolve. They’re learning from the old to create the new. Truly, it was a two-hour period in which I visited the old and became acquainted with the new. Have I mentioned that Ginza really does have everything and that palpable here are philosophies regarding how things are made? Why not come visit GINZA SIX to go looking for a philosophy that matches yours?

Text:Mika Kitamura Photos:Futoshi Osako Edit:Yuka Okada

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Mika Kitamura

Food journalist. After a stint working for an advertising agency, she apprenticed under food journalist Yukiko Oomoto. She’s traveled to 24 countries to sample cuisine, ranging from three-star restaurants in Europe to back alley eateries in South Korea and farmhouses in Bhutan. She writes regular columns for the Asahi Shimbun, Fujinkoron, and T JAPAN web. She also produces, edits, and writes for eclat, T JAPAN, AERA STYLE MAGAZINE, Numero TOKYO, and more. She’s produced and edited numerous recipe books, including Eight Basics of Wu Wen’s Home Cooking (Bungeishunju), with the goal of communicating the importance of home cooking.
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2019.04.15 improves