When I lived and worked in Japan, one of the few places in Tokyo I visited with a touristy mindset was Ginza, the famous upscale shopping district. I rarely slipped into tourist mode, for a couple of reasons: first, because I was living and working there (I’ve been in D.C. for years now and have yet to visit the Washington Monument); and second because Tokyo is not a particularly compelling city to tour when you actually live there. It was burned to the ground twice in the Twentieth Century (after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and during World War II), so there is comparatively little there of historical interest, and the cultural differences that fascinate and delight short-term visitors are just as apparent — probably more so — in the side streets and suburban train stations that fill a resident’s days.
But the Ginza — that had a drawing power based on excess and extravagance, as if Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive had had a child and dressed it up in a kimono. There were glittery Western boutiques, and huge well-established Japanese department stores like Matsuzakaya whose assertive flamboyance made it clear that they were not to be outdone on their home turf. It really was entertaining to walk through the silver and neon like a museum of exorbitance.
Ginza, the district, is one of 23 wards — sub-cities akin to the 5 boroughs of New York — that make up Tokyo proper. What is often referred to as “the Ginza” is the large main street that runs through the district, which is closed to vehicular traffic on weekends and on which many of the most famous stores are located. I was surprised to learn that many cities and towns in Japan refer to their own main commercial avenue as “the Ginza” as well (at least informally; many Japanese streets do not have official names). The original “Ginza” was named for a silver mint built there in the 1600s; thus, the term used for these shopping districts could be roughly translated as “Silver Street”.
In the U.S., the prototypical term for any town’s main commercial street is, well, “Main Street”. And as my British-born wife pointed out, in the U.K. the term “High Street” is most common. I have always thought that, whatever historical and lexicographical accidents have led to the prevalence of these terms, they do seem to carry some cultural resonance. “Main” carries connotations of power and importance, the drive for which is the stereotypical impetus behind American business and politics. “High” looks more to status, a value of historically greater importance to British society. And “Silver” implies a purer focus on economic substance and efficiency — a stance that enabled Japan to climb from total defeat in 1945 to second place among world economic powers in less than half a century.
Granted, attempts like this at cultural metaphors can be overstretched and misused, but there was (at that time, at least) a certain measure of truth to this one. However, whatever the ultimate validity of the metaphor in any cultural discussion of Japan, the U.S, and the U.K., what it does point out for certain is that there are multiple motive forces that can be behind any people’s — or person’s — attempts to succeed in work.
Why do you you strive for success? Are you seeking power? Status? Wealth? Or is your ideal location not on Main Street, High Street, or Silver Street? Maybe you want to end up on Easy Street or the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Or perhaps you have your own specific destination in mind. No matter where you want to go, keep your eyes on the road, and try not to let where you have come from — or where you might be now — lead you to take a wrong turn. The Ginza was a fun place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.