Nihonbashi was the mercantile and entrepreneurial center of Edo and Meiji Tokyo. T T Its name means “Japan’s bridge” after the bridge over the Nihonbashi River that marked the start of the five major highways of the Edo period. After the destruction of the 1923 earthquake, shops, businesses, and banks started relocating to Marunouchi and Ginza; even the fish market moved to Tsukiji.
Although the area never regained its original importance, it is still a thriving commercial center, with dozens of bank headquarters as well as huge department stores and smaller traditional shops. Mitsukoshi has its main store here, on Mitsukoshimae. It started as a kimono shop in 1673. Head for the basement food market with its free samples, and the sixth-floor bargain counters where you can jostle with Tokyo’s thrifty elite.
To the west of Mitsukoshi, the Bank of Japan, built in 1896 and modeled on the NeoClassical Berlin National Bank, was the first Western-style building designed by a Japanese architect, Tatsuno Kingo.
O n the north bank of Nihonbashi River, just before Nihonbashi bridge, is the bronze marker from which distances to and from Tokyo are still measured. The bridge here today dates from 1911.
O n the south bank of the river, east of the bridge, is the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which lists around 2,500 companies, making it one of the world’s top five. During the “bubble” economy of 1980s, it was possible to watch the frenetic hand signals of the traders. In 1999 trading was completely computerized, but this is still a great place to see how important commerce remains in Tokyo. The visitors’ observation deck overlooks the trading floor and has some interesting exhibits comparing stock markets worldwide, with French and English explanations. To the south of Nihonbashi bridge, the Bridgestone Museum of Art holds one of Japan’s best collections of Western art, including works by Manet, Picasso, Rouault, and Brancusi. To its north, the Pokemon Center is a shop devoted to the famous animation characters.