“All roads lead to Rome”was an oft used phrase and for a long time it was quite accurate – ALL roads did in fact lead to Rome. In Edo-era Japan, a similar situation existed in that all of the five Great Highways originated at Nihombashi and all distance was measured from this point.
Built in 1603, Nihombashi was also home to the fish market and was one of the three “hisen ryo” (one thousand ryo daily) areas of Edo. The other two were the licensed prostitution quarters of Yoshiwara and the kabuki theatre district of Nicho-machi and later Saruwaka-cho. A ryo is a gold piece equivalent to one koku – the amount of rice needed to feed one person for a year. In current US dollar terms, one ryo would be valued at between US$1,000 – 1,500 depending the period and calculation method.
No matter how you look at it, Nihombashi was the center of the world as far as Edo and Japan were concerned. Not only was it home to the huge daily business of the fish market, but also to the forerunners of modern Tokyo’s largest department stores (still lining the street to the west of the bridge – on the right side of the ukiyo-e image above) and skilled tradesmen and craftsmen whose enclaves could be found nearby.
Nihombashi was also the subject of numerous ukiyo-e prints and so is a great place for a virtual tour of Edo! A complete walk around the fish market and Nihonbashi will be available shortly for your virtually travelling pleasure and should allow you to get a glimpse of daily life in Edo.