by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2015/01/08 - Exploring Tokyo's revitalized Nihonbashi District
Today Schauwecker and I headed to Tokyo to check out the Nihonbashi District, which developed as an important merchant and trade district during the Edo Period and remains a popular shopping areas today. Nihonbashi lies just northeast of Tokyo Station around the bridge it was named after, literally at the center of Japan since the bridge has served as the kilometer zero marker for the nation's road network.
Nihonbashi is one of Tokyo's more upscale shopping areas and owes much of its success to the Mitsui Family who opened the predecessor of Mitsukoshi, the country's first department store, nearly 350 years ago near the Nihonbashi bridge. The Mitsui group continues a prominent presence in the district today, and the Mitsukoshi flagship store remains an important fixture of the area.
In recent years, Nihonbashi has become a lot more interesting to travelers as the area northwest of the bridge has undergone some major redevelopment to revitalize it as a shopping area. Completed in spring 2014, the attractive Coredo Muromachi complex redefines the historic shopping district with new modern buildings while retaining the traditional style and heritage of the centuries-old stores that still do business here.
To learn more about this we participated in a guided foreign language tour of the various shops and food vendors in Coredo Muromachi. Run by the Nihonbashi Information Center and led by bilingual guides, the tours are meant to introduce foreigners to the history and culture of the area through the diverse shops that have been selling a variety of traditional Japanese goods here for hundreds of years.
The first tour, called the Best of Japan Gourmet Tour, explores the various regions of Japan through their food. Visiting several shops along the way, we were able to sample regional products such as konbu seaweed from Hokkaido, amazake from Niigata, fried sweet potato from Kochi and satsumaage (fried fish cake) from Kagoshima. At one shop, we could also try making bonito fish shavings, which are used to make dashi fish stock and are an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine.
The second tour that they offer is the Culture Experience Tour, which, similar to the gourmet tour, is a nice introduction to Japanese culture and handicrafts though the shops in Coredo Muromachi. This tour also includes a visit to the recently reconstructed Fukutoku Shrine in the back of the shopping area, where the guides give a primer on Shinto shrines such as how to enter and pray, and the various charms and fortunes offered.
The tour also visits several shops around Coredo Muromachi that specialize in traditional products such as knives, chopsticks and lacquerware. In addition, either tour may be supplemented by a variety of cultural experiences such as wearing kimono, participating at a tea ceremony or meeting a geisha. These experiences are offered in English and Japanese and are each priced at 5500 yen per person.
At first I wasn't sure what to expect of a tour of a shopping area, but the Nihonbashi District is so deeply steeped in history and tradition that they really worked well for the area. During the tours we were able to learn a lot of background information that really went toward improving our enjoyment of the foods and traditional goods on sale. In addition, the guides were very knowledgeable and could help you out with any questions.
If you would like to attend one of these tours, they are offered by the Nihonbashi Information Center located on the B1 floor of the Coredo Muromachi 1 building. The tours cost 1000 yen per person and are held regularly on Saturdays, but may be held on any other day of the week with advance notice. Reservations are required and can be made on their website: http://www.nihonbashi-info.jp/omotenashi/en