Nihonbashi has played an important role as the center of economy and culture in Japan since the Edo Period (1603-1867). During the Edo Period, the city prospered and was a strategic hub for the Gokaido (the five main arteries) that all starting from Nihonbashi. First-class craftsmen and merchants throughout Japan came to establish their businesses in Nihonbashi and competed for better quality and services. Still today, business people of the leading banks and major companies are seen in the streets, and many shoppers visit the famous department and other well-established stores in Nihonbashi. Recently the area has been redeveloping at a rapid pace. Modern high-rise buildings have been built in Nihonbashi but scenes of the old times remain here and there. Visit Nihonbashi to experience a vital part of Japan’s business culture, not only the new but also the traditional.
Let’s begin at Takashimaya Department Store, a symbol of Nihonbashi, a stately, modern structure built in the early 20th century. Yamamotoyama, the tea shop which first produced gyokuro (refined green) tea, has been in business since 1690. At Yamamotoyama, you can sip tasty green tea and try famous sweets of Nihonbashi, such as Nagato’s yokan (bean paste jelly). Haibara is a traditional shop which specializes in washi (Japanese traditional paper). COREDO Nihonbashi is a commercial facility housed in a futuristic, glass-covered building which opened in 2004. The famous Japanese sweet shop Eitaro Sohonpo has been in Nihonbashi since 1857. The Nihonbashi River Canal was the main canal around Edo (now Tokyo) and there used to be a thriving fish market there. The first Nihonbashi Bridge was completed in 1603, and the current stone bridge was built in 1911. A copperplate marking “an original road of Japan” is embedded in the center of the bridge. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of Nihonbashi Bridge.
Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi, Mitsukoshi’s main store, is located north of Nihonbashi Bridge. Mitsukoshi, established in 1673, is Japan’s oldest department store, and was then called “Echigoya,” a kimono fabric shop. Other shops established in Nihonbashi during the Edo Period are Yamamoto Nori Laver Shop established in 1849, Kanmo, a traditional fish-cake shop, and Ibasen, a store selling Japanese uchiwa (fans), sensu (folding fans), and traditional writing materials. Nihonbashi also has shops which sell specialties and souvenirs local to other prefectures. You can buy souvenirs at satellite shops from Nara, Shimane, and Niigata prefectures. Small shops and taverns with the ambience of the good old times are tucked into the narrow alleys behind the big shopping district. Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower, built in 2005, contains the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, and Sembikiya Sohonten, a long-established fruit shop. Sembikiya Fruit Parlor on the 2nd floor is always crowded with customers. The Mitsui Memorial Museum houses Japanese and Oriental works of art which have been collected by the Mitsui family beginning in the Edo Period more than 300 years ago.
COREDO Muromachi and YUITO just opened in October of this year. COREDO Muromachi contains 25 shops including Ninben (a famous shop for bonito flakes) and Kiya (a cutlery specialty shop) to name but a few. Ninben, proud of its 300 year history of dealing in dried bonito, opened a unique bar called the Nihonbashi Dashi Bar. This bar attracts much attention with their delicious soups made with bonito flakes, freshly shaved by professionals. Hakuza Nihonbashi is a famous shop in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, specializing in gold foil, and this is the first branch in Tokyo. It has a small room with gilded walls using 16,000 sheets of gold foil. It is a unique experience to stand in a room surrounded by gold! Ozu Washi is a washi (Japanese traditional paper) wholesale shop with a history of over 350 years. This store also has a museum (free admittance) and offers hands-on washi making workshop (fees and reservations required). The hands-on workshop is about 30 minutes long. Why not give it a try? Near Ozu Washi is KIRIKO, a shop selling modern furniture made of kiri (paulownia) wood.
More development is expected in Nihonbashi in the future. Check and see what is going on in Nihonbashi because, in 2011, many events are planned to mark the 100th year anniversary of the construction of the current Nihonbashi Bridge.
Kinza, a mint producing gold coins, was located in Nihonbashi during the Edo period, and now the Bank of Japan is built on exactly the same site. FYI, the famous downtown area called Ginza also used to be a mint but for silver coins. Tokiwabashi-mon was the front gate of the outer moat of Edo Castle, and the stone walls of the gate still remain at the site.