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Tokyo – Nihonbashi January 11, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Nihonbashi” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-xQ

Nihonbashi can easily be considered the centre of Japan.  It is the point where ALL roads are measured.  When approaching Tokyo along one of the many highways and expressways, they almost always measure distance to Nihonbashi.  This is in stark contrast to the way things are done in different prefectures and cities where the zero mark is based on the official government offices.  In fact, while most cities in Japan consider their major train stations to be the centre of the city, it’s rarely used as a distance marker.  Nihonbashi is one of the few exceptions.  The bridge, Nihonbashi, was built originally in 1603 and rebuilt in 1911.  The 1911 version is what you will see today if you do head to Nihonbashi.  It’s a beautiful looking bridge with various sculptures adorning the bridge.  It is still used heavily to this day, although it is no longer a major thoroughfare for cars.  When walking along the bridge, you will be surprised by the beauty and majestic image the bridge portrays, and the fact that they recently power washed it (end of 2010), really brings the original beauty out of the bridge.  It doesn’t look old at all, aside from the styling.  It has been well maintained over the years and hopefully, it will stay for a lot longer.

The only blight against this Nihonbashi is the fact that in the 1960s, the government erected a huge overhead expressway that flowed along the Nihonbashi River.  This highway barely passes overhead and the tall statues show it.  You can see some of the tall statues in the middle of Nihonbashi stretching up between the lanes of the expressway overhead.  It’s an interesting sight, and some people feel that this is what Nihonbashi should look like.  There is a tug-o-war for people who wish to see the expressway moved underground to restore the original beauty of Nihonbashi.  Others claim that the expressway can show Japan’s modernization and true history.  I agree that it shows Japan’s quick ambitions to rise and meet any challenges that it faces, but ugly is still ugly.  It would be far better if the bridge was free from overhead unsightliness.  Alas, this is the problem that Nihonbashi, the district, faces everyday as the world changes.

The Nihonbashi district is a somewhat unique area.  It is well known for being part of the business core in Tokyo.  The old business core used to be the skyscrapers in Shinjuku, and by all means, it’s still a business hub, but for finances, you are hard pressed to find a better area than Nihonbashi.  When combined, Nihonbashi, Otemachi, and Marunouchi make the financial core of Tokyo.  These three areas are easily accessible on foot and can be walked from end to end in about 30 minutes.  Nihonbashi is home to three financial institutions and the Bank of Japan.  While this doesn’t sound amazing, when you walk around Nihonbashi for the first time, you’ll be surprised at how small it truly is.  Many will say that Nihonbashi stretches out towards the Sumida River which would increase its size dramatically, but if you are being a purist, the area can easily be walked on foot within an hour.  It is within this small centre that you will find all of these institutions.

While most people will find the financial institutions to be very boring, myself included, there is a lot more to see and do within Nihonbashi itself.  Shopping is where Nihonbashi truly excels, like many areas of Japan.  If you are looking for traditional Japanese products, this is a good place to go.  You can find various traditional products such as Japanese paper, old hand carved toothpicks, and much more.  Nihonbashi isn’t considered one of Japan’s oldest neighborhoods for nothing.  They have a large array of old and new mixed together.  Many of the old shops have been demolished, but the original owners have re-opened in the newer buildings.  Others have also taken their places and you can find many good traditional Japanese sweets within the area.  I would highly recommend a visit to one of these shops if you can.  There are also department stores that specialize in the higher end goods, and for the older generations.  Mitsukoshi is the first department store in Nihonbashi, and their main building is considered an historical building.  I would recommend a visit just to soak up the atmosphere.  Takashimaya and Coredo are also located here and shouldn’t be missed.  If you are wondering what the difference is between Nihonbashi and Ginza, there isn’t much, but there are subtle differences.  Ginza tends to be a posh area with younger people with lots of money to spend.  Think of a new izakaya that is expensive and extremely popular.  Nihonbashi feels more alike a refined sake; one that has aged and matured over time.  It has a feeling of being in an exclusive club, and if you don’t belong, you might be left out.  While I doubt that the shops will make you feel like an outsider, the air of the area is special.

I did mention that Nihonbashi is a small area, but that shouldn’t stop you from exploring the neighboring areas either.  For one, you should head west along the river.  If you head towards Ichikokubashi, you will see, on the south west corner a small marker next to the bridge at the entrance of a public park.  This is a very rare marker and an interesting history lesson for anyone.  The marker itself is a lost and found stone.  If you lose a child, or you find a child, you can post a note on either side of the stone and hope someone finds it.  For example, if I find Taro Suzuki, and I’m looking for his mother, Hana, I can write a description of him, and his name and put it on the found child side.  The opposite is also true.  From there, if his parents or caregiver found the note, they can move it to the reunion side which posts a meeting time and location for people.  It’s not always a happy story, but I’d like to think that more times than not, children are reunited with their parents.

Nihonbashi is an often overlooked and skipped area of Tokyo.  By all means, if you are only in Tokyo for a few days, it’s not a place I’d recommend a visit.  If you are in Tokyo for 2 weeks, and not venturing out to the outlying areas, I’d definitely recommend a visit to this area.  There are many things to see and do in a short time, and it’s a very short walk to get to the other various areas surrounding Nihonbashi.  It’s easy to walk over to Tokyo Station, and Akihabara is just a few stations away as well.  If you are considering a visit to either Nihonbashi or Ginza, I’d probably choose Ginza as it’s more famous and what most people want to see, however, Nihonbashi is a good substitute if you understand what you might be missing in Ginza.

Nihonbashi Information:

Nihonbashi (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihonbashi

Nihonbashi (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3033.html


Tokyo (Tokyo Station – Marunouchi) July 8, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Tokyo Station – Marunouchi)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-pz

Tokyo Station is probably the most misunderstood station in Tokyo.  It is often referred to by visitors as “Tokyo” as it’s the first station people arrive at when taking the Narita Express.  Since Tokyo is actually a very large metropolis with many city centres, it’s easy to understand why people would get this wrong.  Tokyo Station itself is separated into two distinct regions.  The east side of the station is an older area called Yaesu.  This is the connection of Tokyo Station to Nihonbashi, which is the “true” centre of Tokyo, and Japan.  On the west is Marunouchi, a rejuvenated area that has lots of new skyscrapers, enough to challenge Shinjuku in terms of size.  Unfortunately, this area has been overlooked by many people, including myself, but as of late, it has been getting more and more interesting each year.

The east side, as I mentioned, is not very interesting overall.  It is where you can find cheaper eats and lots of salarymen and OLs.  If you want to see what a typical Japanese worker looks like, this is your best bet.  Of course, almost every area of Tokyo will allow you to see these people, but in terms of Tokyo, this is where you will probably see the most.  You will see many men in black suits, white shirts, and ties walking with their attaché case.  Women can also be seen sporting black suits, usually with skirts instead of pants, black tights, a white blouse, and plain pumps.  The main reason to enter this area is to find cheap food, and possibly some interesting shops.  Generally, there isn’t much to see or do for the average tourist.  You are better off staying on the west side where all the action tends to happen.

The west side of Tokyo Station, also known as Marunouchi is one of the newest areas of Tokyo.  It has been undergoing a renovation of sorts with various old buildings being torn down and new skyscrapers going up in their place.  Walking out of the station can be a challenge as they are now working on the station’s entrances and various buildings within eye sight of the exit.  The first thing you do when you exit the station isn’t to walk out too far, but far enough and then to turn around.  The station has a very old history, being originally built in the late 1800s.  During the war, the building was destroyed, but rebuilt at a smaller height immediately after the war ended.  The building itself is still very beautiful showing some of the architecture of the time.  If you enter from this entrance, you can still have a small feeling of being in an old train station, compared to some of the more modern stations that have a colder feel to them.  Do note that they are currently doing renovations to the station itself, but it is scheduled for completion by the end of this year.

The area near the station exit has several new buildings for which you can pick and choose which one you wish to visit.  Unfortunately, they are all very similar to each other.  The good thing is that they are all very new and it can be interesting for a quick visit.  There are also various floors with restaurants and cafes for which you can drop in and get a nice meal.  Unfortunately, the prices for the meals are a little expensive, so you should be prepared to spend at least 1000 Yen per meal at lunch, more if you want dinner.  If you do go shopping, you will be able to see various European brands and other high end brands as well.  Marunouchi is not for the cheap shopper.  The good thing is that it’s very architecturally beautiful.  With the buildings being new, you get a great chance at seeing the latest building designs in Tokyo.  Shinjuku’s skyscrapers were primarily built in the 70s, and you can somewhat see that reflected in their designs.  Marunouchi does the same, but with an emphasis on recent designs.  The interiors are also unique within Tokyo, so a walk inside is always recommended.  If you do have the time, walking out towards Yurakucho will bring you to the Tokyo International Forum.  This building is a conference centre that mainly serves for business conferences.  You won’t be seeing too many conferences that are open to the public, or ones that are popular with the public.  This may change in the future, but I personally doubt it.

Marunouchi is also known for its art and events.  Since the rejuvenation started to finish, the various buildings within Marunouchi have grouped together to put on new events and to present art.  There was a campaign where they had various artists put a design onto a cow and placed them throughout the area.  It was similar to other various public art projects where the money raised went to a specified charity.  In the last few years, they have created one of the most popular Christmas events in Tokyo.  Along one of the main shopping streets linking Marunouchi to Yurakucho, there are various public artworks on display.  This street is also popular around Christmas as they have one of the biggest Christmas light displays in Tokyo.  This is in conjunction with the display around the Imperial Palace.  From around mid-November till about December 28th, the entire area of Marunouchi is lit up with Christmas lights.  These light displays are nice and worth a visit, but after one visit, it’s unlikely to change much in the future.  They tend to recycle the lights, and instead of trying to arrange them in a different way, they tend to use the exact same style of display.  I do recommend visiting Marunouchi at night as the feel can also be very different, but do note that things are much quieter as it is still a traditional office area.  You can enjoy a little in terms of a night life, but it still can’t compete with the traditional night spots of Tokyo.

Tokyo Station Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Station
Wikipedia (Marunouchi):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marunouchi
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3037.html
Marunouchi Official Site:  http://www.marunouchi.com/e/


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