text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
It is one of those bizarre contradictions that completely short-circuit every notion about the Japanese’s connection to their past, their respect to the legacy of their ancestors and their living relationship with tradition: Nihonbashi (日本橋), the bridge built by Tokoygawa Ieyasu as a hub of the city of Edo and the country he unified violently after the civil wars, the starting point of the five national roads Tokaido, Nakasendo, Koshu Kaido, Oshu Kaido and Nikko Kaido that connected Edo to the rest of Japan, the commercial center of the actual new capital and once home to the Yoshiwara and the central fish market (Tsukiji would come three centuries later) has almost disappeared for the last fifty years, swallowed by the two elevated lanes of the metropolitan highway Shuto-Kousoku.
Anyone who has read the history of Nihonbashi or have seen the woodblock prints by Hiroshige and Hokusai or the photographs from the Meiji Period, when the present bridge with the dragons, the Chinese lions and the air of Belle Époque replaced the classical wooden one will remain speechless before the sight it presents today; personally I have heard more than one cases of visitors who passed by without even noticing it, unable to imagine such an aesthetic and historic sacrilege to a place that remains even today the “kilometer zero” for the measuring of all distances in Japan and for the history of several of its biggest businesses most famous among which being the department stores Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya and the Bank of Japan. And which managed to escape unscathed both the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the American bombings of 1945.
Perhaps the problem is the romanticism I often feel for Tokyo; if I want to be realistic about it, there is no reason to believe that the last of the “Edoko”, those born and raised in Edo didn’t experience the same repulsion seeing the granite creation of the architect Yorinaka Tsumaki (and his master, the Emperor Meiji) replace the wooden bridge their ancestors had been crossing for three hundred years. Furthermore, it isn’t hard to imagine that the message of optimism and advancement to the future carried by the expressway two years before the 1964 Olympic Games, also a nodal point for the history of postwar Japan, was too strong to be overlooked by a people burning with desire to prove to itself and the world that it had recovered; after all this deeply private, public megacity preserves its history in narrow alleyways, not landmarks.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.