Two streetcars pass by the Hattori Building in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza. Carts are parked under the verdant trees.
This classic tree-lined avenue with buildings only three floors high is utterly different from the Ginza that we know today. The only thing that is remotely similar is the existence of a clock tower. Now there is one on Wako Department Store (和光, see left – click to enlarge).
The Hattori Building was one of Ginza‘s main landmarks. It was the home of K. Hattori & Co., a watch and jewellery shop opened in 1881 (Meiji 14) by Kintaro Hattori (1860-1934). In 1892 (Meiji 25), the company started making clocks and in 1913 (Taisho 2) it started with the production of watches, the first ones in Japan.
We now know this company as Seiko, one of the most famous watch companies in the world.1
The iconic Hattori building did unfortunately not survive the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 (Taisho 12). The task of designing a replacement fell in the lap of Japanese architect Jin Watanabe (渡辺仁, 1887-1973). In 1932 (Showa 7), he completed a massive granite Neo-Renaissance style building with a wide curved base. This became the home of Wako Department Store.
The building’s outer wall has an interesting relief that most people overlook. It features the letter H for Hattori, with a cane and snake that symbolize Hermes, the god of commerce; scales to symbolize precision machines; and a silver cup to represent precious metals.
The building’s predecessor was not forgotten. While the Hattori Building featured a bell that was manually struck to mark the hours, Wako has a clock that plays the chime of London’s Westminster Abbey.2
Watanabe left quite a mark on Kanto. Many architects will be happy if they get to build one landmark building, but Watanabe actually designed a whole string of them.
Besides Wako, the most renowned are undoubtedly Hotel New Grand (Yokohama, 1927), Waseda Elementary School (Tokyo, 1928), Nichigeki Theater (Tokyo, 1933-1981), Tokyo National Museum Honkan (Tokyo, 1938) and the Dai-ichi Seimei Building (Tokyo, 1938).
The Dai-ichi Seimei Building even managed to enter into the world’s history books when General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) decided to use it as his GHQ after the end of WWII. It was one of some 600 Tokyo buildings taken over by the Americans.
Amazingly, Ginza Wako survived the massive aerial bombing that Tokyo sustained during WWII. The US military therefore used it as a PX during the US Occupation of Japan (1945-1952), one of several in Tokyo.3
After the occupation ended, Wako managed to recapture its former glory and to this day many people consider it one of Japan’s top luxury department stores.
For another view of Ginza, see Tokyo 1890s • Shinbashi Bridge, Ginza.
1 Seiko. History. Retrieved on 2008-04-15.
2 Shiseido. Ginza Wako. Retrieved on 2008-04-15.
3 Ginza Concierge. Ginza during the occupation. Retrieved on 2021-08-29.
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Duits, Kjeld (). Tokyo 1910s: Hattori Building, Ginza, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on June 3, 2023 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/158/hattori-building-ginza
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