HistoryNihonbashi Changes and Grows

Nihonbashi in the Modern Era

Nihonbashi entered the 20th century still a thriving neighborhood of greater Tokyo. Its prosperity was shaken, however, by disaster and war. Nihonbashi struggled and grew through the tides of history, becoming the city we see today.

Business, Commercial, and Financial Modernization

The early 1900s marked a turning point, as the kimono shops of the past evolved into the department stores of the present. The Mitsui Echigoya Kimono Shop, a staple of Edo era (1803-1867) Tokyo, is a prime example. The former kimono shop officially declared itself a department store in 1904, Japan's first, under the Mitsukoshi name. Others followed suit, and Nihonbashi became a place where department stores sat side-by-side with centuries-old shops.

Nihonbashi also has a longstanding reputation as a financial district. In the Edo Period, Kinza was a business that minted, appraised, and approved gold coins. Today, the Bank of Japan stands where Kinza once was. The Meiji Period (1868-1912) also saw the establishment of the First National Bank and the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Offices sprang up around the area to support and collaborate with these financial giants.

Disaster and War Strike Nihonbashi

The entire Tokyo area suffered incredible damage during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the bombing of Tokyo in 1945. After the earthquake, Nihonbashi lost its long tradition as site of the Uogashi fish market, and the market moved to Tsukuji. The original Mitsui Main Building, completed in 1902, was hit hard by the earthquake, and had to be torn down. In 1929, it was reconstructed as a building strong enough to be able to withstand seismic activity twice as severe as was seen in the Great Kanto Earthquake. The rebuilt Mitsui Main Building is well known today as Japan's oldest standing authentic American-style office building.

1868 - 1945 History up to the bombing of Tokyo
1869 Old Bank of Japan building completed
1873 Old Tokyo Kabushiki Torihikijo (later the Tokyo Stock Exchange)building completed
1896 Current Bank of Japan Headquarters building completed
1902 Old Mitsui Main Building completed
1904 Mistukoshi opens, makes "Department Store Declaration" *First department store in Japan
1911 Current stone arch Nihonbashi bridge completed
1923 Great Kanto Earthquake
1927 Current Mistukoshi completed
1929 Current Mitsui Main Building completed
1933 Nihonbashi Takashimaya completed
1945 Bombing of Tokyo
  • "Mitsui main building picture zhou" Mitsui main building after rebuild from Mitsui Bunko

  • "Taisho Shinsaishi Shashinchou" 1927 from National Diet Library.

Recovery and intense economic growth
after World War II

Even though it took an extreme battering during the war, Nihonbashi was restored exceptionally quickly due to its status as the pride of Japan. In fact, it was reborn as a booming business zone centering around financial and office buildings in addition to commercial facilities. This timing happened to coincide with the recovery of the postwar Japan economy due to factors like the special procurement demand necessitated by the Korean War, and companies centering around the financial industry in Nihonbashi were fully recovered by around 1955. By 1965, the longstanding department stores had fully recovered their former glory.

The Metropolitan Expressway and
the Fading Culture of Nihonbashi

The Nihonbashi neighborhood was radically altered with the construction of the Metropolitan Expressway. The expressway, built to coincide with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and facilitate the city's huge growth during that time, spanned the rivers of Nihonbashi and was built directly over the area's eponymous Nihonbashi Bridge. Though this was a convenient choice—building the expressway over the river meant not needing to reclaim land from the growing city—it forever altered the landscape of Nihonbashi. The expressway cast a shadow over the Nihonbashi Bridge, and modernization cast a shadow over the Nihonbashi neighborhood. The area lost some of its vitality and attractiveness, and sank into a cultural decline.

Metropolitan Expressway Covers Nihonbashi Bridge

Tokyu, a major department store, shuttered its Nihonbashi branch in 1998, signaling a decline in Nihonbashi's commercial health as well.

Nihonbashi residents, shopkeepers, and companies grew nostalgic for the energy of old Nihonbashi. Though there was no going back, they thought there might be a way to move forward. And so, the "Nihonbashi Revitalization Plan" was born.