Uogashi (Fish Market) at Nihonbashi, c. 1910.

1910sCommerceHistoric District
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“About the carved stone skirts of the Nihonbashi bridge clusters this place, odorful of the Sea God’s breath, which supplies the two million inhabitants of the Japanese capital with the fish that are daily brought by the lean brown sampans from near and far-off waters, the scent of seaweed from the deeps of the sea clinging to them like cerements.

“Here one sees the mother of hundreds upon hundreds of proud ‘Edokko,’ the real children of Tokio, of men and women who by gallant deeds, known and unknown, born of the pure Edokko spirit, have done their share for Tokio and for Japan, and made the name, Uogashi, fish market, a memorable one, forever dear to the Edo people.”

“The Fish Market of Tokio”, The Oriental Economic Review, April 1912

The Fish-market at Nihonbashi, Tokyo, c. 1910.

The Fish-market (Uogashi) at Nihonbashi, Tokyo, c. 1910. The market has its beginnings during the Tokugawa era and remained in the Nihonbashi until it had far outgrown its usefullness there and, precipitated by damage from the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, was relocated to the larger confines of the former foreign settlement at Tsukiji.

See also:
Nihonbashi District, 1905-1920

“The huge square on the east bank of Nihonbashi bridge was filled with an enormous, bustling crowd of people. This was one of the largest wholesale markets in the city, and from sunrise until late in the evening it is thronged with people shopping, selling all sorts of seafood and other produce, or just out to watch the comings and goings of Edo’s citizens.

“The town area around Nihonbashi was one of the first to be settled by townspeople after Tokugawa Ieyasu set up his capital [in Edo] in 1590. The Shogun built his castle on the nearby hill, and his daimyo and other retainers built their main estates on the many hills and plateaus nearby. The flat land of Nihonbashi, however, has always been the center of daily life for the common people, or shomin. Most of the people in the lower classes lived in very small houses.

“The great square beside Nihonbashi bridge was even more important than other public squares in the city, because it was also located next to one of the biggest kashi (pier districts) in the city. Most ocean-going ships bringing goods to Edo unloaded their products onto smaller barges and takase-bune in one of the main ports, like Shiba or Tsukiji. Fruits were unloaded and sold to wholesalers in the Kanda pier district (Kanda no kashi), while cloth and clothing is taken to another kashi in Suruga-machi. The Nihonbashi pier handled seafood, and the nearby public square became home to a vast fish market, the Uogashi, selling every type of seafood imaginable. Beside the bridge were the piers where fish were unloaded from barges and small boats. Several stone steps led down to the water’s edge, and strong men made their way up and down these terraces carrying large baskets of seafood from the boats to the wholesale shops in the square.

“So important was the fish trade in Edo that it is said even daimyo halted their processions to allow those transporting fish to go ahead of them. Working with fresh fish, which spoils quickly, caused those working at the Uogashi to work and speak as quickly as possible. The shomin [common people] considered the dashing young men of the Uogashi, with their straightforward speech and hard-working attitudes, fine examples of Edokko [people born and raised in Edo].”

Edo Japan: A Virtual Tour

Nihonbashi Bridge, looking west past canal-side warehouses and fish markets, c. 1910.

Nihonbashi Bridge, looking west past canal-side warehouses and fish markets, c. 1910.

“The first mission to the United States was sent by the Bakufu [Tokugawa shogunate] in 1860. The Maritime Diary by the Assistant Minister Muragaki Awaji describes the deliberations in the American parliament [Congress] as follows:

One member rises and starts scolding in a loud voice, gesticulating like a madman, (and upon asking what all this meant he was told that) they were in the middle of deliberations of national politics. Dressed in laborers’ clothes, the scolding, the appearance of the vice-president – it well resembles the fish market at Nihonbashi.

The Foundations of Japan’s Modernization, Yoshiie Yoda, 1996

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