The crowd at the Mitsui Echigoya Kimono Shop, which later became Mitsukoshi Department Store. (From the "Kidaishoran" picture scroll replica, visible in the Mitsukoshimae Station concourse.)
Nihonbashi's intricate road network-including the "five Gokaido roads" national highway system, canal roads, and the network of chonin-machi residential and commercial neighborhoods-brought about a period of wealth and economic growth during the Edo Period (1603-1876). Hundreds of shops in business today have their origins in the Edo Period, when Nihonbashi emerged as the undisputed center of commerce in Japan.
"The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido: Nihonbashi" by Hiroshige Ando. Courtesy of the National Diet Library.
Tokyo—then called Edo—had a population of 1.2 million in the mid-18th century. In comparison, Paris at that time had a population of less than half that; and London, a population of about 900,000. Nihonbashi was the center of this thriving metropolis, the point at which people, goods, and ideas from across the country came and went. Several iconic images of Japan, some captured in classic art, came out of this period. The bustling fish markets (uogashi); the intricate series of waterways that earned Nihonbashi.
the name "Venice of the East"; and the tall white walls of wholesaler warehouses are just a few of the characteristics that are mentioned in poetry or seen in brocade pictures (nishiki-e) and woodblock prints from the time. As the center of so much travel and commerce, Nihonbashi quickly flourished. More than anywhere else in the country, Nihonbashi was a center for trade, development, and cultural exchange.
Who could have predicted that a kimono shop, selling the most basic and essential clothing in Edo Tokyo, would grow into the luxurious and internationally renowned Mitsukoshi Department Store? Mitsukoshi, Shirokiya, Daimaru: all these giants had their start in early Nihonbashi. Hundreds of other shops that emerged during the Edo Period still stand today, providing the same food and artisan crafts from old Japan.