Mihara Koji Lane in Ginza

Mihara Koji Lane near Ginza 4-Chome intersection.

Mihara Koji 三原小路

Just east of the bustling Ginza 4-chome intersection is a somewhat forgotten-looking alley: Mihara Koji. It takes its name from the next intersection east, Miharabashi.

The alley has an elegant archway at its entrance, and paving stones, But Mihara Koji’s biggest attraction is its relative decrepitude, which makes for a “refreshing” change from the mostly very glitzy Ginza district.

(The contrast is especially striking when standing at the start of the alley. Look across the main Route 304 road. Next to Mitsukoshi Ginza department store stands the ultra-modern 21st-century (2007) Pias Ginza building with its “twisted knife” architecture.)

Mitsukoshi Department Store Ginza (left) and Pias Ginza (right), just across from Mihara Koji.

Mitsukoshi Department Store Ginza (left) and Pias Ginza (right), just across from Mihara Koji.

Mihara Koji History

The alley suffered destruction twice in the twentieth century. The first time was in the Great Tokyo Earthquake of 1923, and then the bombing of Tokyo in the mid-1940s.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Japan’s main center of economic activity shifted to the Kansai region, i.e., Osaka and Kyoto. The distant earthquake did not damage these cities, and many residents took the opportunity to take advantage of Tokyo’s destruction. That is to say, numerous Osaka and Kyoto restaurateurs came to the ruined and comparatively deserted capital to set up shop cheaply. Many of them flocked to Mihara Koji lane, among other places. In particular, Chinese and Korean residents of Japan started restaurants and bars here.

Few of these Chinese and yakiniku (Korean barbecue) restaurants, remain open. And a few of the old buildings remain: blackened, empty and somewhat spooky. That decrepitude makes for a striking contrast with the glitzy main street of Ginza, just a minute’s walk away.

Azuma Inari Daimyojin Shrine, Mihara Koji Lane, Ginza.

Azuma Inari Daimyojin Shrine, Mihara Koji Lane, Ginza.

Azuma Inari Daimyojin Shrine

Also, the alley has its own shrine: Azuma Inari Daimyojin. The shrine was built during the Pacific War (as the Second World War is more usually referred to in Japan). The reason for its founding was the hope that it would prevent attack during the Allied bombings of Tokyo.

It didn’t work. Azuma Inari Daimyojin itself, fell victim to the bombing. Then, after the end of the war, when the alley was booming as a an entertainment strip, there was a spate of fires. Superstition dies hard, and locals blamed the string of fires on the destruction of the shrine.

Once they rebuilt Azuma Inari Daimyojin, the fires “magically” stopped. (Helped, no doubt, by the heightened consciousness of fire risk that its reconstruction awoke among local tenants.)

Entrance to Mihara Koji with Delirium Café Ginza.

Entrance to Mihara Koji with Delirium Café Ginza.

Mihara Koji dining

Yet, Ginza is Ginza, and the most famous restaurant in this back-alley – Jirocho – will still set you back a couple of hundred dollars per head. Jirocho is a well-known kappo (traditional Japanese-style) restaurant that is especially famous for its fugu (puffer fish) dishes. The puffer fish used here – deadly if not properly prepared – come directly from Shimonoseki. Its sea bream (tai) is also renowned – comes directly from Akashi.

However, the Delirium Café Ginza – the Tokyo branch of the famous Belgian pub/cafe – is not overly expensive. Delirium Café Ginza is at the entrance of Mihara Koji – a presence here since 2011.

There is also some interesting street art on a feature wall advertising the alley’s existence.

So if you’re visiting Ginza – say the quite recently opened Ginza Six just a couple of blocks south – why not take a detour through Mihara Koji, for old time’s sake?

Mihara Koji Alley wall art, Ginza.

Mihara Koji Alley wall art, Ginza.

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