Nihombashi is a bustling business and shopping district in Tokyo that is slowly but surely re-establishing itself as a major Tokyo city centre. It was the capital’s true commercial centre during the Edo period (1603-1868), taking its name from the bridge acting as the gateway between the city and the rest of Japan.
From the late 19th century, activity in Nihombashi declined as people with money moved to the high city (broadly speaking, anywhere west of the Imperial Palace). The absence of a railway hub also meant that business activity moved elsewhere. For some time though, the fish market kept the area alive. Unfortunately, together with the devastating fires after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, the fish market (the Uogashi that was in Nihombashi for over 300 years) moved away to Tsukiji, allowing activity to further decline. To make things worse, the rapid development leading up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics saw the neighbourhood fatally scarred by an ugly elevated overway, right on top of the Nihombashi bridge. At this stage, the only thing that Nihombashi had going was its financial sector. The Bank of Japan and the Stock Market remained in Nihombashi, establishing this area as a bit of a grey and uninteresting business district. However, thanks to the revitalizing efforts since the early 2000s, business has been brought back to the area and many new department stores have opened shop.
In fact, the Tokyo Station/Yaesu area is undergoing massive redevelopment and will integrate with Nihombashi to create one large zone connecting Marunouchi and Nihombashi. Some of the biggest skyscrapers in Tokyo are under development in this area, to be completed by 2027, namely the Yaesu Midtown (240m, by 2022), a new Mitsui tower (284m, by 2026) and the Torch Tower (390m, by 2027), which will become the tallest skyscaper in Japan. But most importantly, the unsightly highway that hovers over the district is set to disappear. That will be the crown jewel to revalue the area and finally brushing off the undesirable side-effects that the 1964 Tokyo Olympics brought to the area.
1. Nihombashi bridge: centre of Japan
Nihombashi bridge is one of the most central places in Japan. It was the bustling commercial centre of the capital city during the Edo period (1603-1868) and the starting point of the Gokaidō, the “Five Highways” or centrally administered routes connecting the capital with the outer provinces during the Edo period. The original wooden arched bridge was built in 1603, the first year of the Edo Period, while the current stone bridge was built in 1911. Read more.
2. Mitsui: legacy of Echigoya
The area is historically a power base of the Mitsui group. Mitsui’s initial success started right within Nihombashi with the kimono shop called Echigoya (1673), which eventually morphed into the Mitsukoshi Department store in 1904 (see point 3). However, the Mitsui group is much more than this department store. The Mitsui group is one of six huge business groups in Japan, called keiretsu, which have interlocking business relationships and shareholdings. Mitsui is not just large and important, it is huge and dominant in the Japanese market. It controls Toyota, Toshiba and Toray Industries among many others that are less household names, but nonetheless influential big companies. While the competing Mitsubishi group is strong in the neighbouring Marunouchi area, Mitsui group is the one with all the power in Nihombashi. Mitsui’s group main seat is located here in the Mitsui Main Building, built in 1929 in Neo-classical Greek style, and houses the Mitsui Memorial Museum to learn more about Mitsui’s history.
3. Mitsukoshi and other department stores
Mitsukoshi is the oldest and most majestic department store in Tokyo. The main building dates from 1925 and is built in renaissance style. It’s an impressive building with lion statues at the entrance, modeled on the lions of Trafalgar Square, and has live pipe organ music performances every weekend. However, the Mitsukoshi department store is not the only department store of interest in the area. On the other side of the bridge is Takashimaya. Takashimaya was later to the game of the department store business (and originated in Kyoto, with their flagship store in Osaka), but their 1933 classic style Nihombashi department store is a beauty and does not match any of their other stores in Tokyo. Read more.
4. Fukutoku Shrine and around
Fukutoku shrine is a Shinto shrine in Nihombashi Muromachi dating from the 9th century. It is a central site to visit in Nihombashi to get a good idea of the redevelopment of the area. This area of Nihombashi Muromachi in particular hosts many traditional shops and aims to retain an old Tokyo character, regardless of the shiny department stores and office buildings. Naka-dōri, between COREDO Muromachi 1 and COREDO Muromachi 2 is quite beautiful at night. Right next to it is one of the few traditional shopping streets, Muromachi Komichi. Read more.
5. Centre of finance: Bank of Japan
Nihombashi is home to not just one but two financial institutions: the Tokyo Stock Market and the Bank of Japan. The Bank of Japan is the more interesting of the two, with one of the most impressive buildings in Nihombashi. This neo-baroque style building from 1896 was designed by KINGO Tatsuno, the first native Japanese to take on this type of massive Western-style building. It was inspired by the main National Bank of Belgium in Brussels at that time. Read more.
6. One of the many shops/restaurants
Nihombashi is full of old shops and restaurants that maintained their operation in the area. A good place to start are the area promotion guide by Mitsui Fudosan or the Nihombashi Guide put out by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. If you are looking for some highlights, I warmly recommend Yamamoto Noriten, a shop that specializes in nori seaweed and had been operating for over 170 years (founded 1849). Another one is Nihombashi Saruya, Japan’s only shop that specializes in toothpicks (founded 1704).
Keep in mind though that many places listed on these guides are not originally from Nihombashi. That being said, it is a feature of Nihombashi to attract good things from all over Japan, so do not let that stop you from trying any of the shops and restaurants.
Nihombashi Station (Ginza Line, Tozai Line, Toei Asakusa Line)
Mitsukoshimae Station (Hanzōmon Line, Ginza Line)
Other Tokyo neighbourhoods are within walking distance. Nihombashi bridge is:
10 minutes walk to the Yaesu entrance of Tokyo Station
20 minutes walk to the Ginza crossing
20 minutes walk to Otemon gate of the Imperial palace
20 minutes walk to Akihabara
Names in Japanese:
日本橋 (Nihombashi), 三井 (Mitsui), 三越 (Mitsukoshi), 福徳神社 (Fukutoku Shrine), 室町 (Muromachi), 日本銀行 (Bank of Japan)