Tokyo: Places to Explore

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Nihombashi, Ginza, and Yuraku-cho

Tokyo is a city of many centers. The municipal administrative center is in Shinjuku. The national government center is in Kasumigaseki. Nihombashi is the center of banking and finance, Marunouchi the city’s biggest business district, and Ginza stands out as the ritzy shopping area.

When Ieyasu Tokugawa had the first bridge constructed at Nihombashi, he designated it the starting point for the five great roads leading out of his city, the point from which all distances were to be measured. His decree is still in force: the black pole on the present bridge, erected in 1911, is the Zero Kilometer marker for all the national highways and is considered the true center of Tokyo.

The early millionaires of Edo built their homes in the Nihombashi area. Some, like the legendary timber magnate Bunzaemon Kinokuniya, spent everything they made in the pleasure quarters of Yoshiwara and died penniless. Others founded the great trading houses of today—Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo—which still have warehouses nearby.

Long known as Tokyo’s ritzy shopping district, Ginza was originally the city’s banking district, and the district owes its name to the business of moneymaking: in 1912 Ieyasu Tokugawa relocated a plant making silver coins to a patch of reclaimed land west of his castle. The area soon came to be known informally as Ginza (Silver Mint). Ginza is still home to most of the country's major securities companies, but the district is best known as the place where high-end shopping first took root in Japan. Before the turn of the 20th century, Ginza was home to the great mercantile establishments that still define its character. The side streets of Ginza’s Sukiya-bashi enclave is also home to many art galleries, where artists or groups pay for the gallery by the week, publicize their shows themselves, and in some cases even hang their own work.

Being largely devoted to business, Marunouchi is a better option for dining than sightseeing. It is, however, home to the recently restored historic Tokyo Station, which is well worth a look.

Marunouchi lies west of Tokyo Station and extends between Hibiya Park and the Outer Garden of the Imperial Palace. In the late 19th century, Iwasaki Yanosuke, the second president of Mitsubishi Corporation, bought the land. Today it houses numerous office and retail complexes and the headquarters of various companies within the Mitsubishi group.

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