- What kind of place is Nihonbashi?
- Taking photogenic photos with a historical touch in Nihonbashi
- The pioneer of financial buildings "Mitsui Main Building"
- The details of the ornaments are must-see features “Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store”
- A solid looking building designed by Kingo Tatsuno, "Bank of Japan's Head Office"
- The masterpiece architecture of the Meiji to Taisho era, "Nihonbashi"
- One of the two major buildings of Nihonbashi, "Nihonbashi Takashimaya"
Jungle of skyscrapers, stylish photo spots, and glittering illuminations.
With various stylish architectures, Tokyo is famous for embodying the "Modern" state of Japan, but against these features, "Nihonbashi" is an area known for retaining a distinctive atmosphere of the past, with numerous "Retro" looking buildings still remaining until today.
The unique blend of cultural buildings fitting into the modern scenery of Tokyo makes this place a perfect spot to take photos.
This time, we will be introducing the top 5 must see retro buildings of Nihonbashi.
Let's start our journey of capturing these epic architectures on film, alongside exploring the attractions through looking back at its history.
What kind of place is Nihonbashi?
As you all know, the center of Japan has been Tokyo for a long time, and the center of Tokyo was once Nihonbashi.
During the Edo era, the entire region thrived like nowhere else as downtown of Tokyo.
Although Japan’s modernization accelerated with the openings of major department stores, this remnant was preserved during the following Meiji and Taisho Era as well.
With a glorious history of being the center of Edo and Tokyo, today's Nihonbashi is still an area lined with many long-established stores and filled with elegance.
The mixed modern and retro atmosphere of the Nihonbashi area
With this historical background, Nihonbashi has many notable architectures built during the Meiji to Showa era. As an area centered around commerce, it has long supported the distribution channels of Japan, and the preserved native dignity of the buildings continues to fascinate and impress architectural fans up until today.
This time, we would like to introduce 5 architectures of Nihonbashi, and explore the features and attractions through delving into its historical backgrounds. With a camera in hand, let's stroll through the splendid architectures embodying the "Old" and "Modern" days of Nihonbashi.
Taking photogenic photos with a historical touch in Nihonbashi
The walking route used for this time is as shown below.
It is about a 60 minute tour if you simply walk through just to take pictures. If you find any buildings that seem attractive to you, you should definitely make reservations to enter and look at the interiors and decorations.
■START：Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / Hanzomon Line, Mitsukoshi-mae Station A7 Exit
1：Mitsui Main Building
↓A short walk
2：Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store
↓about 3 minutes walk
3：Bank of Japan’s Main Office
↓about 7 minutes walk
↓about 5 minutes walk
5：Nihonbashi Takashimaya Main Building
■FIN：Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / Tozai Line, Nihonbashi Station (Direct connection from Takashimaya)
The pioneer of financial buildings "Mitsui Main Building"
Our tour starts from "Mitsui Main Building", a splendid building standing right outside the A7 exit of the Tokyo Metro Ginza and Hanzomon Line's Mitsukoshi-mae Station. It was built after the disastrous Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, and is known as the pioneer of financial building architecture in Japan.
Mitsui Main Building is a 7-story high building. Although it’s low-rise compared to modern buildings, it has a dignified design.
The current building is a reconstruction, where the original was first built in 1902 designed by Tamisuke Yokogawa. As he studied and implemented the steel structure methods acquired from American publications, the original Mitsui Main Building was a notable Western-style architecture of that time with a dome placed on the top.
Unfortunately, the inside of the former building was completely burnt down during the Great Kanto Earthquake, with the skeleton being the only part of the building that barely remained. As for this, a reconstruction was decided by Dan Takuma, who was the Chairman of Mitsui Gomei at that time. He presented three main concepts upon rebuilding, which were "Magnificence, Dignity, and Simplicity". To fully embody these concepts, it was redesigned and reconstructed by an American company, Trowbridge & Livingston. You can see their extreme commitment through the fact of them entrusting both the structural design and construction to a leading company of America.
A corinthian order with decorated pillar heads. Simple doric pillars are chosen for the inside.
A well-balanced blend of classical architecture creates an attractive design, which can be seen from the contrast between the simple looking doric pillars chosen for the 1st floor of the building and the corinthian orders with moderately decorated pillar heads surrounding the outer wall.
Strictly speaking, the 3rd floor mentioned above is actually the 5th floor of today. This is because the mezzanine was not counted as an independent floor at that time.
Reliefs are displayed on the southern side. The scale and key seen on the right represents “Finance, Exchange, Justice, Firmness, and Keeper of the Treasure”
The 12 medallions (reliefs) displayed in the upper part of each outer wall are symbols of the business ran by the Mitsui, showcasing the authority and power they had back then.
In order to balance and maintain the stableness of the building's design, the entire 5th floor (current 7th floor) is slightly retracted compared to the 4th floor (current 6th floor) where the relief is displayed.
Granites are used for the outer wall, and this strong and popular building block blends excellently with the surrounding architecture and unique landscape built under the concept of "Magnificence, Dignity, and Simplicity".
If you are to take a picture here, you should try to make the complete view fit into the image. Also, more detailed snaps focusing on the reliefs and the pillar heads will allow you to come up with photos special to Mitsui Main Building.
The golden letters of “三井住友信託銀行 (Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank)” stands out on the basic looking granite wall
The details of the ornaments are must-see features “Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store”
It was first acknowledged as “The greatest construction built eastward of the Suez Canal”
Standing right next to the Mitsui Main Building is the famous department store, "Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store". This building was also designed by Tamisuke Yokogawa who was in charge of the Mitsui Main Building. It has experienced repairments and renovations several times to reach its current form, and all construction works were consistently completed by the successor of Tamisuke Yokokawa until today, the "Yokokawa Architects & Design Office".
The front entrance is full of dignity to welcome guests. The golden statue of Mercury is also impressive.
Being completed in 1914, the building blew a new wind and swept through Japan at that time, since the "Department Store" culture which fascinated the ladies and gentlemen of Paris in the 19th century was finally introduced to Japan by Mitsui ("Mitsukoshi" was formerly known as the "Echigoya Mitsui Fabrics Store", which was a department store produced and run by Mitsui). Although it experienced a major renovation after being struck by the Great Kanto Earthquake, the scale and elegance is still preserved to the present day.
A gorgeous lamp with a sheep motif having a renaissance touch decorates the front entrance
The decorations seen in the pillar are worth noting
Unlike the neighboring Mitsui Main Building, this building was built for adults to enjoy shopping, therefore has a decorative and gorgeous appearance. In the inside, lined-up shops surround the 5-story open ceiling hall in the center. Don's miss the detailed Art Deco style based decorations.
The open ceiling hall creates spaciousness
The shining angel statue standing at the center of the open ceiling hall has an overwhelming appearance with it being 11 meters high.
This masterpiece was created by Gengen Sato who was a member of the Japan Arts Academy. He spent about 10 years in an atelier located in the Myoshinji temple of Kyoto to complete this craftwork. The unique oriental design will make you evoke mysterious "Temples".
Behind the statue and at the balcony built on the stairway, is a pipe organ manufactured by an American company, Wurlitzer. A total of 852 pipes are installed in the left and right side of this organ, and you can actually see it in action at weekly performances taking place three times a day on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Musicians actually perform on this pipe organ, where beautiful vibrates through the entire hall.
The arched ceiling shining under the sunlight like a stained glass adds even more structural expansiveness to the environment. You should definitely take notice of the colorful oriental ceiling around you as well.
By the way, ammonite fossils are embedded in the surface of the marble wall surrounding the hall. You can find them in various places, so enjoy yourself by looking carefully to discover these small features.
The ceiling is decorated in an oriental style
Speaking of Mitsukoshi, you can't overlook the lion statue standing at the front entrance.
This statue of two lions was created and placed in 1914 along with the construction of the original architecture, being modeled after the statue of four lions seen at the Trafalgar Square in London.
Since its birth in 1914, these lions have long been a popular landmark for rendezvous and a deity statue of school success, and have been patted countless times by passing by visitors.
You should definitely take a commemorative photo with it, while appreciating the depth of the history lying behind this lustrous statue.
A poem written by a poet, Shuntaro Tanikawa is displayed nearby
A solid looking building designed by Kingo Tatsuno, "Bank of Japan's Head Office"
As you walk through the path between the Mitsui Main Building and Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Building, you will see the "Bank of Japan's Head Office", which was built as Japan's first national project.
Being considered as the most representative building of Nihonbashi, it was designed in 1896 by an authority of Japanese architecture and a first generation student of Josiah Conder, Kingo Tatsuno.
A simple design, yet embodying the dignity of Nihonbashi
As the main bank of Japan, it is responsible for protecting money and therefore the robustness of the building is its main feature.
The building was designed and planned to be entirely made from stone at the beginning, but after experiencing the Nobi Earthquake in 1891, the focus shifted more on being lightweight. To accomplish this purpose, the ground floor serving as the base was left as it was using stone, and bricks were used to build the 2nd and 3rd floor.
In addition to this, it's a very unique building since stones were additionally attached to cover the bricks, so that it looks like a completely stone-made building. When you observe closely, you will notice that the depth of the joint differs between the 1st floor and above.
The south gate side. A crest of the “Medama” is displayed at the top of the arch, which is the symbol mark for the Bank of Japan.
Although the building lacks spaciousness, keep in mind that it was built about 10 years after the end of the Satsuma Rebellion. It is said that the main purpose of this design focused on withstanding attacks from exterior forces, therefore had to prioritize on being solid and firm.
The square created in the center
It is widely known that the Bank of Japan's Head Office looks like the Japanese "円 (yen)" when viewed from above. However, the Kanji used to describe yen when it was built back then was "圓", so the truth still remains a mystery.
By the way, you can also enter and see the inside by entering from the west gate, where you can actually hold 100 million yen in cash and feel the weight, and tour through the business areas. Please note that reservation is required in advance.
Closely looking at the outside and inside of Japan's monumental architecture built during the transition period of westernization, definitely sounds like a nice idea.
The masterpiece architecture of the Meiji to Taisho era, "Nihonbashi"
Going a little further and after about a 7 minutes walk from the Bank of Japan's Head Office is a bridge which served as the center of distribution in Japan, "Nihonbashi".
With it being crowned with the word "Nihon (Japan)" in its name, it distinguishes itself from other bridges by its majestically decorated appearance which creates a traditional and historical atmosphere. It is by all odds the most famous bridge in Japan.
The iconic statue of the Kirin representing Nihonbashi
It was first built in 1603 during the Edo Shogunate, to serve as the starting point of five major land traffic routes; Tokai-do, Nakasen-do, Ohshu-kaido, Nikko-kaido, and Koshu-kaido.
Unlike the state of today, it was bustling as if it were a downtown area with many fish markets being lined up nearby.
As described in a painting from the "53 Stages of the Tokaido Road" drawn by Hiroshige Utagawa, it was originally a curved wooden bridge during the Edo era.
After being swept away several times and losing its original form due to fire, it gave rebirth to its current appearance of today in 1911.
A drawing from the ”53 Stages of the Tokaido Road” by Hiroshige Utagawa
This renewed design of an arched stone bridge was devised by Yorinaka Tsumaki, who was of the same generation with the famous Japanese architect Kingo Tatsuno (with Shinichi Yonemoto being the master carpenter).
The characteristics of the bridge can be seen from the balanced mixture of Japanese-style motifs such as Kirin and Dragons, and Baroque-style sculpture showing enhanced sharpness.
The Kirin was given a wing under the meaning of ”Flying from the starting point of Japan’s traffic route, Nihonbashi”
It is considered unique because the Baroque style sculpture blends perfectly with the Japanese and Chinese motifs to create a perfect harmony, and these styles usually don't match well with each other.
The largest attraction of the Nihonbashi is created from the collaboration of two different cultures, the Renaissance style arched stone bridge and the shiny bronze ornaments.
The “Statue of a lion holding a shield” in Europe was the model upon creation. Instead of a shield, it holds the crest of Tokyo.
If you wish for a photo with a complete view of the Nihonbashi, you should try taking it from neighboring bridges.
You can access it by walking straight ahead towards Nihonbashi from the road in front of the Bank of Japan called "Nichigin-dori", which connects directly to the neighboring bridge.
From here, you will be able to fit in the scenery of the historical Nihonbashi from the Meiji era, and the Metropolitan Expressway which is the icon of Modern Japan, at the same time.
The Bank of Japan faces the Nichigin-dori
The Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway runs above the Nihonbashi
Also, if you go down the stairway located at the side of Nihonbashi, you will find a small space where you can take a picture of the letters of "日本橋(Nihonbashi)", printed on a signboard posted in the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway.
Hidden behind the fence is a statue of the Kirin, so be sure to search for it as well.
The letters of ”日本橋” at the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway is based on the actual handwriting of Tsunayoshi Tokugawa, and shown horizontally
You can find a statue of the Kirin at the square too
One of the two major buildings of Nihonbashi, "Nihonbashi Takashimaya"
After crossing Nihonbashi stands our last destination for this trip, "Nihonbashi Takashimaya".
It is a famous building considered to be one of the two major buildings of Nihonbashi along with the Mitsui Main Building.
Standing in a luxury and honorable manner as if it resembles the distinct atmosphere of Nihonbashi, you can intuitively sense the sophisticated beauty at first sight.
”Nihonbashi Takashimaya” was built during the Showa era
A bronze signboard which you can sense the history
It was built in 1933 by inheriting a winning design from a competition held by Yasushi Kataoka, Teitaro Takahashi, and Kenjiro Maeda. The theme of the competition emphasized on "Inventions of modern architecture based around oriental taste", and this concept has been passed on since then to finally become what it is now after an enlargement was done by Tougo Murano.
It looks like a somewhat complicated theme, but its intention is simply about actively introducing Modern Architectural Styles and adding the Japanese taste of "Wa(和)" to it. Western and Oriental style decorations are provided here and there, such as in gates and Ranma transoms used for connecting pillars.
A steel gate with Western and Japanese motifs
A coffered mortar ceiling is decorated with beautiful ornaments
With it being the first department building to be selected as an important cultural property in 2009, the tradition has long been passed on in spite of it experiencing several renovations and facing constant developments to fit with the times. You can get a glimpse of this even today, with unique features such as elevators being manually operated by elevator operators can only seen here.
Antique elevators still operating today
On the second Friday of each month, a tour to see through the important cultural properties are provided from the concierge(reservations required), starting at 11:00 and 15:00.
A little less than 90 years have passed since 1933, when Takashimaya established in Kyoto, opened the first air-conditioned department store in Nihonbashi at the end of Edo Era.
With plenty of hospitality provided by the concierge, why not enjoy your time looking at the gorgeous architecture and deepen your knowledge through their explanation.
Taking photos of the history of Japan's westernization
Our Nihonbashi architecture tour ends here.
The point to make the most out of this experience, is to try viewing the entire landscape from a panoramic perspective, and to also focus on the details and ornaments as well.
Many architectures of Nihonbashi are especially known for the perfect harmony created through blending Japanese and Western styles, and if you carefully look at the details, you will clearly notice the difference between the western and eastern motifs.
With a camera in hand and giving more than a passing thought to the historical backgrounds at the times the architectures were built, enjoy your leisurely stroll in the Nihonbashi area.