chiyoda-ku nihombashi ootemachi

Tokiwa bridge: major gateway to the city

Tokiwa bridge (tokiwa-bashi) is the oldest stone bridge in Tokyo, constructed in 1877 close after the Meiji Restoration. It replaced a wooden bridge from 1590 that connected Edo and Asakusa, and gave its name to one of the 5 major gates to old capital of Edo.

The Nihombashi Bridge gets all the attention as the oldest bridge in Japan due to its central position in the country’s road network. However, about 400 meters upstream is another old bridge that is, in fact, the oldest remaining stone bridge in Tokyo. The Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 severely damaged the bridge. But after a careful restoration to its former glory, the bridge opened to the public in April 2021.

There are actually two Tokiwa Bridges in Tokyo if you would only look at the English names. In Japanese, the name of the bridge consists of 3 kanji (Chinese characters) of which the middle kanji is different, 磐 (means big rock) versus 盤 (means disk). This article is about the former one (磐, big rock). This pedestrian bridge connects the remains of the Tokiwa Bridge Gate with the Bank of Japan. The “other” Tokiwa bridge (盤, disk) is a wider bridge, built in 1926 for regular car traffic.

Notice the middle kanji is different in the Japanese names:
– 常磐橋 Tokiwa bridge (1877)
– 常盤橋 Tokiwa bridge (1926)

Name of the bridge inscribed in the white marble pillar with in the background the Bank of Japan

One of the main entrances of the city

Originally built in 1590 as a wooden bridge 10 meters wide, Tokiwa bridge connected Edo (old name of Tokyo until 1868) and Asakusa. Initially named Ohashi (big bridge) or Asakusa-guchi-bashi (bridge to go to Asakusa), this bridge received the name Tokiwa during the early Edo period (1603-1868). This name comes from a poem in the Kokin Wakashū, an early anthology of Japanese poetry (10th century AD).

Subsequently, the Tokiwa Bridge Gate (Tokiwabashi Gate) was built in 1629 together with the outer wall of Edo castle at the location of the bridge. It became one of the five main entrances to Edo Castle, along with the Tayasu Gate, Kandabashi Gate, Hanzomon Gate, and Outer Sakurada Gate. This further established Tokiwa as a major name in the history of Edo and subsequently Tokyo.

Fujinami on the Tokiwa bridge next to the evergreen pine tree at the east road
(from Kokin Wakashū; own translation)

Early Meiji area stone bridge

During a period of rapid modernization that followed the Meiji Restoration (1868), many western-style structures appeared all over the city. One example was this bridge, built by Masons from Kyūshū using stones from Edo Castle.

The main octagonal pillars are made of white marble and the cast iron railings have an arabesque pattern, which was a pioneering design at the time. The carriageway in the middle separated the footpaths on both sides made of andesite, an extrusive volcanic rock of intermediate composition. The stone abutments consist of square-shaped stones that are carefully chiseled to pile on to each other following the kirikomi-hagi method, only seen at the most expensive Japanese castles. This makes them perfectly fit with all the other stones.

The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 severely damaged the bridged leading to its first restoration. The Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 wrecked the bridge once more. After another restoration in the years that followed, it opened again to the public in April 2021.

A bright future ahead

Interestingly, while Tokiwa bridge is the oldest stone bridge in Tokyo, it stands at the centre of a huge redevelopment project. When finished, it will make this area into one of the most modern areas in the capital. In fact, the whole area just east of Tokyo Station is undergoing a massive transformation, bridging the gap between the Marunouchi district west of Tokyo Station with the Nihombashi district to the east. Not only is the hideous highway above the current bridge about to disappear, the tallest tower in Tokyo (called Torch Tower) is under construction at one end of the bridge. Torch Tower (390 m tall, completion year: 2027) will help to reclaim this area as the true centre of Tokyo. The Tokiwabashi Tower (212 m tall), right next to the “other” Tokiwa Bridge (盤), was already completed in 2021.

Torch Tower is going to be built by 2027 at one end of the bridge.

In practice

Address: 2-7-2 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Nearest station: 1 minute walk from Mitsukoshimae Station B1 exit (Hanzomon line, Ginza line), 7 minute walk from Tokyo Station (Nihombashi exit)

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