chuo-ku general

The double bridge in Nihombashi

Nihombashi bridge is one of the most central places in Japan you can think of. It is the kilometer zero marker for Japan’s national highway network since 1604 and is depicted in numerous famous ukiyo-e prints by Hiroshige and Keisai Eisen.

The original wooden arched bridge was built in 1603, the first year of the Edo Period. The bridge was said to be so busy that snow could never pile up in winter, showing how central the bridge was in the daily activity of the capital. The current bridge was built in 1911, which was the 19th time the bridge was rebuilt and the fist time the bridge was built in stone.

A full replica of the original bridge can be viewed (and crossed) in the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku, while a half sized replica can be seen in the International Terminal at Haneda Airport.

Original bridge in the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku

Due to some serieus error in judgement, the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway was hastily built on top of Nihombashi river right before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And hence also right on top of the Nihombashi bridge, scarring this historic spot and barring the view of Mt. Fuji that could be enjoyed from the bridge.

In order to see the bridge in all its glory there is good news is on the horizon. Nihombashi will soon again bask under the blue sky! It was decided in 2018 to build a tunnel of the expressway for the section that is on top of the bridge. Construction will start after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

In fact, the whole area will be renewed in order to bring out the historic and cultural character of this quintessential Tokyo neighbourhood. That bad news is that it is going to cost 320 billion yen (2.6 billion euro) and will take between 10 and 20 years to complete.

Bridge over a bridge, a peculiar type of aesthetics.

The current bridge is a typical construction project of the Meiji era (1868-1912), when many buildings were made in western design in combination with Japanese elements. You will find Guardian Lion Dogs and Kirin, as well as intricate ornaments on each of the bridge’s pillars (matsu and enoki tree patterns). The bridge is 49 meters long, 27 meters wide and has been recognized as an important cultural asset of Japan.

Tsumaki Yorinaka (1859–1916), a protege of British architect Josiah Conder (1852–1920), is credited with its design.

Things to see on the bridge:

  • Zero kilometer marker: since the Gokaidō (wiki link) kickstarted Japan’s highway system in 1604, Nihombashi was the place where they all started.
  • Nameplate of the bridge: handwriting by TOKUGAWA Yoshinobu (1837-1913), the 15th and last shōgun. Even though his reign had finished, it was deemed appropriate to retain an Edo period element to the face of Nihombashi by then mayor OZAKI Yukio.
  • Guardian Lion Dogs (shishi): modeled after the Guardian Lion Dogs from the Temukaiyamahachimangu shrine in Nara Prefecture (from the Kamakura period).
  • Guardian Kirin: the top mythological animal in Japan, usually depicted as a dragon shaped like a deer. One of HIGASHINO Keigo’s novels, The Wings of the Kirin (2011), a novel set in Nihombashi, is named after this statue. This is the statue in the middle of the bridge.
Nihombashi in all its glory in 1911 (photo public domain)

In practice

Address: 1-1 Nihonbashimuromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Nearest station:
At exit B5 or B6 of Mitsukoshi-mae Station (Ginza line, Hanzomon line)
1 minute walk from exit B11 or B12 of Nihombashi Station (Ginza line, Tozai line, Toei Asakusa Line)

Name in Japanese: 日本橋