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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 (Ebisu, Hiroo, and Daikanyama) March 30, 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 (Ebisu, Hiroo, and Daikanyama)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-ebisu

Ebisu is a relatively famous area of Tokyo. It is next to Shibuya and close to Roppongi. It is known among locals as a hip place to eat lots of good food. The area is named after a famous Japanese beer, Yebisu. Both are pronounced the same. The true origin of Ebisu is from the name of one of the seven gods of fortune. He is mainly the god of fishermen and is always pictured with a fishing rod and fish. He is also the god of luck, working men, and the health of young children. Yebisu beer, itself, is also named after this god. Many people outside Japan don’t know of Yebisu beer as it’s not famous outside Japan. It is considered a major craft beer, and it’s priced that way as well. Yebisu beer is a very good beer, and highly recommended if you are in Japan.

While Ebisu itself is a fairly large district, there aren’t many things to see or do. Heading South of the station, along the Yebisu Skywalk, you will reach Ebisu Garden Place. It is a wonderful area that provides many photo opportunities. Mitsukoshi department store is the major tenant of the area, and there are many interesting shops. However, don’t expect anything different compared to other department stores in Tokyo. The main attraction has to be the Yebisu/Sapporo beer museum. Yebisu is actually owned by Sapporo Breweries, and this is the only beer museum within Tokyo itself. The tour itself isn’t spectacular. It’s a self guided walk in only Japanese. You don’t even see anyone brewing beer. The best part is the sampling. You can get relatively cheap beer (compared to a bar). The best is the tasting set, 4 small glasses of beer. If you want to try Yebisu beer, but don’t know which one is best, this is your best option. Try them all! Aside from Ebisu Garden Place, there isn’t much to see. Ebisu has nothing more to offer than a plethora of restaurants. Anything you want to eat can be found here. If you choose any direction from the station, you are bound to find several good restaurants.

East of Ebisu, you will reach Hiroo. I don’t advise walking there as there aren’t many signs and you are bound to be lost. Hiroo is a quaint little town that is very expensive to live in. Hiroo is home to several embassies, and with it comes many foreigners. It’s very akin to Roppongi, but without the seedy nature. Shopping is mainly restricted to small boutiques, and so is eating. It can be difficult to find a reasonably price meal.  The nice I would generally skip this area, but some people enjoy walking around various districts in Tokyo.  The plus side of walking in this area is that it is very quiet and peaceful.  There are also a few nice places to sit, relax, and have a nice cup of coffee.

Heading West of Ebisu, you’ll reach the fashionable district of Daikanyama. It’s a very easy walk, but like all areas of Ebisu, you will more than likely get lost looking for it. It’s a very hip area that has many young fashion brands. You are likely to find rare pieces of clothing and several high end shops at the same time. This area is famous for the rich and famous. They do a lot of shopping, and it’s your best chance to see them on their days off. However, if you don’t know any famous Japanese stars, you would probably walk right past them without knowing who they are. Daikanyama is also home to Evisu jeans. While they were founded in Osaka, they were also named after the same god, Ebisu, as the beer and the neighbourhood. It’s fitting that they have a shop or two located just outside Ebisu itself.

Depending on what you are looking for, and how long you are staying, Ebisu and the surrounding areas may be an interesting place to see. However, I don’t recommend it for everyone. If you are looking for something unique, Daikanyama is a good place to go. If you want good eats, Ebisu is great. If you are just looking for a place in Tokyo where the old meets new, Ebisu is good, at the moment. Beware that Ebisu is growing extremely fast, and all the old shops that gave it character are slowly being demolished for large new buildings.


Tokyo (Ginza – Part I) March 17, 2009

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 (Ginza – Part I)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-88

Continuing on my Tokyo series, here, I’ll talk about the very famous district of Ginza.  Ginza is famous for being an upscale shopping district in Japan.  It’s is always compared to 5th Avenue in New York, Oxford Street in London, and Champs Elysees in Paris.  The shopping is top notch with the biggest name brands located within this small area.  To give you an idea, you can walk the perimeter of Ginza in about two hours.  Ginza is bounded by an elevated highway, which makes it easy to know when you leave Ginza.  While the south-east border has an underground highway, it’s still easy to tell the border as there is a huge street to cross.  The heart of Ginza has to be 4-chome (yon-chome).  Whenever you see pictures of Ginza, you are probably seeing 4-chome, or a picture very close to it.  Taking the train to Ginza is also relatively easy.  Finding 4-chome is also easy, but you can easily get lost at the same time.  Thankfully, there are several maps in the underground area of the station, but once you find it, it’s easy to explore Ginza.

4-chome, as I said is the most famous intersection in Ginza.  Running north-east to south-west is Chuo-dori.  It’s the main strip for Ginza.  On weekends and national holidays, the street is usually closed to traffic to allow pedestrians a wide space to enjoy their shopping.  Many local merchants also set out tables and chairs so you can have a nice rest in the sun, if it’s sunny.  Running north-west to south-east is Harumi-dori.  It’s a very busy street with relatively fewer things to see, but still a good destination.

On the North corner of 4-chome is the department store Wako.  It’s famous for its high prices and extreme luxury.  It’s a nice place to take a quick look at things you could never afford, unless you are very rich.  For something reasonable, exploring into the North, you’ll find Printemps which is a popular department store for younger women.  The entire North side of 4-chome is full of expensive luxury shops that have both no name shops and brand name shops.  It’s a wonderful area to just walk around and explore the many different shops.  There are also several mid range to expensive restaurants in the area.  Notable shops include Gucci and Emilio Pucci on Harumi-dori, and Kimuraya (bread shop), Chanel, Cartier and Apple.

The East side of Ginza 4-chome is probably the most popular, in terms of shopping.  On the corner, you have the Mitsukoshi department store.  Next door, you have the Matsuya Ginza department store.  Both are relatively the same, in terms of what they offer.  They both have large underground food shops where you can buy a lot of delicious Japanese and foreign foods.  It’s a must see for most people.  Behind Matsuya Ginza, you’ll also find the first Starbucks in Japan.  It’s a relatively small building, but the coffee is cheap for the Ginza area.  If you continue past Matsuya, you will run into Bvlgari, Tiffany & Co., and a large stationary shop called Itoya.  You can find almost any type of pen, pencil, or even painting accessories.  It’s a must see if you like stationary.  Travelling south-east into Higashi Ginza (East Ginza), you’ll reach the Kabukiza.  It’s a famous kabuki theatre.  Kabuki is an old style of theatre that is akin to the old Shakespearean theatre of England.  It’s an all male cast and tickets for the upper deck are relatively cheap.  You can even rent headsets that will give you information as to what is happening.  I hear it’s a wonderful place to visit on a lazy afternoon, but if you don’t have the time, it’s probably nothing you’ll cry about.

This is the end of Part I of this two part series. The second part is available at PART II.


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