Every weekend, just before noon, the main thoroughfare of Ginza clears out. Cars evacuate what for the next few hours will be a pedestrian-only area. A police officer pulls barricades into place to block off the street.

It may be hard to imagine emptiness in Tokyo, this massive metropolis in which some thirteen million live, but it is visible here, for the brief moment during which Ginza is under transition. Somehow it evokes a memory from my childhood: of winter mornings, waking up to the ground carpeted in white, eagerly awaiting the announcement that school would be closed. Tumbling into the streets, where the snow was pristine.

Perfection does not last. Under the little shoes of a hundred children, snow devolves into slush, gray as expired dreams. And a weekend in Tokyo being a weekend in Tokyo, by late afternoon, shoppers have filled the street in an explosion of movement. The feeling has evanesced.

But twice a week, like clockwork, a breath of tranquility expands to fill the space. Before the first foot steps into the street, the air is thick with anticipation, everyone hesitant to encroach on the stillness, like a snow globe left to rest. Tokyo feels vacant, if only for a little while.

Among the world’s most famous shopping districts, Ginza brims with upscale department stores and flagships of virtually every international luxury brand in the world. On Saturdays and Sundays, from 12 to 5 p.m. (or 6 p.m., from April to September), the main road, Chuo-dori, is cordoned off to make a pedestrian-only area suitable for families and young children.

Name in Japanese
Ginza, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo

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