Nihonbashi (sometimes spelled Nihombashi, meaning ‘Japan Bridge’) is the centre of Tokyo – literally: distances within the city and Japan are calculated in relation to Nihonbashi Bridge. It is also the heart of the financial district and has a reputation for high-rises and high-end shopping, but with little in the way of decent entertainment or eating options. Look closely, though, and you’ll find some gems hidden amongst the steel and concrete.
For the real early birds, catch a sumo wrestler’s early training session at Arashio-beya Sumo Stable (pictured) from 7.30am. If you’re after food first, there are a few options for a quick morning bite away from the coffee chains. Head to Muromachi Café Hachi (3+5) or the venerable Mikado Coffee for a simple morning set (usually toast with coffee/tea and sometimes eggs as well), or try a more unorthodox hojicha rice porridge with onsen tamago at Shizuku 429.
After breakfast, head to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the largest of its kind in Asia, where you can join a tour (English-language ones available, call in advance to reserve) to see how Nihonbashi makes its money. For even more cash-related trivia, walk over to the nearby Bank of Japan Currency Museum. The Mitsui Memorial Museum is also close by, and has frequent exhibitions on Japanese art, plus a tea ceremony room.
Queue at Kaneko Hannosuke (pictured) to be rewarded with impeccable (and very reasonably priced) tempura. Otherwise, have a retro yoshoku meal at Maruzen Café inside the bookshop that shares its name. You could also go for Tamahide’s oyakodon, which is the culinary equivalent of a cuddle. Or go slurp a hearty bowl of udon at Taniya. There’s also Kanto-style oden at Otako.
The area has a plethora of upscale – and old school – shopping options. Say hi to the grand dame of department stores Mitsukoshi, the first floor of which was recently renovated by architect Kengo Kuma, browse fancy Takashimaya, or ogle some of the world’s most expensive fruit at the flagship (and also oldest) store of the premium fruit purveyor Sembikiya.
The three-building Coredo Muromachi has quite the selection of stylish shops plus foodie options – pickle fans should head to Nishiri, while you can marvel at blocks of bonito and all things dashi at Ninben. Definitely pass by Fukutoku Shrine on your way out, or make your way towards the great Suitengu Shrine, which is dedicated to conception/childbirth. Both shrines date back centuries but have recently been rebuilt.
To experience the more maritime side of the area, go on a boat tour; different tour companies do runs on the Nihonbashi River towards Kanda or Sumida from the Nihonbashi Boarding Deck, right next to the bridge. If you're feeling sporty, you can also go kayaking on the river: book through Tokyo Great Kayaking Tour to see the city from a unique vantage point.
Being the haunt of expense-account- carrying office workers, Nihonbashi isn’t always the cheapest place for dining out, but the quality is superb. For food with a slice of culture, book a spot at Suigian, which serves upscale Japanese cuisine after a short introductory noh theatre performance.
There are also lots of great fish restaurants in the area: go for anago (conger eel) at Nihonbashi Tamai, its brother unagi at Izumoya, or seafood at Nihonbashi Suminoe. Carnivores will be happy with beef-specialist Ningyocho Imahan (pictured); its old-school and excellent sukiyaki has won over a legion of fans.
If you really want a burger, stop by Brozers’, either the original Ningyocho branch or the one inside Takashimaya. They have a unique way of arranging the lettuce leaves so that your burger doesn’t fall apart when bitten into.
Have a drink on the terrace right next to Nihonbashi Bridge at the classy restaurant and bar Nihonbashi Ichino Ichino Ichi. For a glass of nihonshu, you can’t go wrong with Shiga’s Bar: it offers sake from all 33 breweries in the region between Kyoto and Nagoya and prices start from a mere ¥300.
Alternatively, join the hipsters at Citan, a hostel that has a lounge bar too, or have a quiet drink at Bar Louis (pictured), where solo patrons occasionally get served special mixtures not available to other customers. There’s also a Toho Cinema complex inside Coredo Muromachi if you prefer non-alcoholic entertainment.
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