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Updated: October 5, 2021
All roads in Japan lead to Nihonbashi which, for the uninitiated, may seem to be a spillover from the nearby Ginza and Tokyo stations with its gleaming malls and office skyscrapers. But look closer and you will see that it is steeped in history and tradition. A walk through this neighborhood of downtown Tokyo will uncover shrines and bridges, including one bearing the "Kilometer Zero" sign, as well as Japan's first department store and venerable generations-old eateries.
The modern high-rises of Nihonbashi pay homage to its status as the capital's mercantile center during the Edo period (1603-1867). Explore Nihonbashi on a self-guided walking tour and you will see clear traces of its past, as skyscrapers exist alongside traditional eateries, some of which have been open since the 19th century. Perhaps fittingly, Nihonbashi remains the epicenter of Japan's economy and is home to the Bank of Japan and the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The latter has tours where you can try your hand at the stock market in a simulation game. Nihombashi Station is served by the Tokyo Metro's Ginza and Tozai lines, and the Toei Asakusa Line. It is also within walking distance from the Suitengumae Station on the Hanzomon Line, Kayabacho Station on the Tozai Line, and the Ningyocho Station on the Hibiya Line.
Nihonbashi, along with neighboring Kyobashi and Kanda, formed the core of the original downtown center of Edo-period Tokyo. This was before the city gradually expanded outwards with newer centers like Shibuya and Shinjuku. The predecessor of the Tsukiji fish market was also in Nihonbashi, though this was relocated after the site was destroyed in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. All distances to Tokyo from around the country, up to this day, are measured from the "Kilometer Zero" mark that is seen on a bridge connecting both sides of the Nihonbashi River—a testament to the area's rich history as the prosperous commercial "center of Japan."
Hop on a riverboat to explore Tokyo's labyrinthine waterways, which were excavated centuries ago, and see how the capital began as a "city of water" during the Edo period. Several cruise companies operate at Nihonbashi Pier, which is located on the south side of Nihonbashi Bridge.
Take a moment out of your walking tour to pray for a windfall at Fukutoku-jinja, which is nestled between the towers of the new Coredo Muromachi complex. The shrine dates back to the ninth century and had once commanded a strong following among the military seeking protection. But it has taken on a new purpose since the Edo period, when the shrine became one of few that were authorized to hold lottery events. Up to this day, the historical shrine is widely seen by Tokyoites to be a "power spot" to rake in the money.
Despite being one of the district's more recent redevelopment projects, the Coredo Muromachi complex took great care to pay tribute to Nihonbashi's rich traditions. Loosen your purse strings as you visit the complex's three towers of shopping and dining options, where traditional Japanese household goods and crafts are sold alongside more modern options.
Complete your visit to this historic downtown Tokyo neighborhood with more shopping, this time at the relatively high-end Nihombashi Mitsukoshi—Japan's very first department store—with seven floors of shopping and a newer 10-story annex building. It was founded by the Mitsui family, who was one of the most powerful merchants during the Edo Period. They ran a highly successful textile shop known as Echigoya in Nihonbashi before founding the iconic Nihombashi department store.