chuo-ku nihombashi

Bank of Japan after Belgian model

One of the oldest and most impressive buildings in Nihombashi is the Bank of Japan (BOJ) building. 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.

Neo-baroque architecture

The neo-baroque Bank of Japan building was designed by KINGO Tatsuno (1854–1919), also known for Tokyo Station (1914). What makes the Bank of Japan’s building special is that it was the first of these Western-style grand buildings to be designed by a native Japanese person. Kingo’s teacher was Josiah CONDER (1852-1920), a British architect who was hired by the Japanese government to teach Western architecture in Japan. Conder was nicknamed the “father of Japanese modern architecture” due to his teaching of several famed architects and was single handedly responsible for over 50 buildings in Japan. Kingo himself went on to not only design the National Bank building in Tokyo, but also in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Kanazawa, Hakodate and Hiroshima.

After Kingo received the commission to design the Bank of Japan building, he went abroad (1888-1889) to study various public and bank buildings. He first went to America where he visited public buildings in Boston, moving on to England and finally continental Europe. He was noted to have found the design of building of the National Bank of Belgium excellent. That building at the Wildewoudstraat/Rue du Bois Sauvage, by Hendrik Beyaert (1823–1894) and Wynand Janssens (1827–1913) , was completed in 1878 with elements from Italian renaissance and the French second empire style. While in Belgium, we know that Kingo met up with Beyaert, but it is difficult to say exactly how much the buildings are related.

Courtyard of the Bank of Japan

Adopting the banking system from Belgium

Not just the building itself, also the central banking system of Belgium served as a model for Japan. During the rapid modernisation of the Meiji period, missions were sent to the United States and Europe to study their modern industrial, political, military and educational systems and structures. The most famous was the Iwakura mission (1871-1873), which proposed to model the banking system on the US. But subsequently there came other proposals, such as the model of the Bank of England.

Side of the Bank of Japan

Japan had the choice to make it a system “with” or “without” a central bank. The system of England (with) versus the system of the US at that time (without). Faced with this tough choice, the Japanese did not make rushed decision. MATSUKATA Masayoshi, who became Minister of Finance in 1882, went to Paris a couple of years before his appointment to study the French system. While in France, he was told that rather than the French system, the Belgian system would be the best fit for Japan. The National Bank of Belgium was new at that time (established in 1850) and had clearly written rules and bylaws, making it easy to copy. As a result, the legal and institutional settings of the National Bank of Belgium were adopted in Japan in 1882.

Free tours in the Bank of Japan building

The Bank of Japan began operating on 10 October 1882 as the nation’s central bank. It moved to its current location in 1896, where two type of free tours are on offer for visitors. A long one, which involves entering the building, but requires reservation. And a short one without reservation, but you do not get to actually enter the building.

Tours in English are also available. I did the long tour in English and quite enjoyed the tour in the building after a short video presentation. The tour even takes you to the work floor, giving an insight in Japanese working culture and there was an extensive Q&A session at the end of the tour. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed except for the courtyard. If you can plan ahead, definitely reserve the long tour. Reservation details are outlined on the BOJ website:

Due to the pandemic, only the long tours are currently available (at the time of writing this article).

In practice

Address: 2-1-1 Nihonbashihongokucho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-0021

Nearest station: 1 minute walk from Mitsukoshimae Station B1 exit (Hanzomon line, Ginza line). 8 minute walk from Tokyo Station (Nihombashi exit)

The Japanese currency museum is nearby, as well as the Tokiwa bridge.