Wed, May 27, 2020

Kintaikyo bridge: Scenic 5-arch wooden history in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Pref.

Japan’s beauty in the eyes of CIRs

Kintaikyo bridge and Iwakuni Castle (Photo courtesy of Iwakuni city)
By Tina Sato / CIR for Yamaguchi Prefecture

All bridges have a purpose for being built, and Kintaikyo bridge that spans the Nishiki River in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Pref., is no exception. Although the site of this beautifully constructed five-arch wooden bridge attracts tourists on its own, I’d like to take this opportunity to tell its tale.

In 1600, after the defeat in the Battle of Sekigahara, Hiroie Kikkawa, the first feudal lord of the Iwakuni Domain planned the construction of a castle town that would be easy to defend. When Lord Kikkawa discovered that the Nishiki River flowed in a U shape around a mountain, he decided to build a castle, soon to be known as the Iwakuni Castle, on top of the mountain as the river would perform as a perfect outer moat. Upper class samurai were ordered to build their residences at the foot of the mountain while he constructed a town for the middle- and lower-class samurai and merchants on the opposite shore. However, because the land near the river was very narrow, it was impossible for all of Lord Kikkawa’s vassals to build houses at the foot of the mountain and thus needed to find land on the opposite side. Therefore, to assemble all of his vassals to the castle to make important decisions, there was a need for a bridge that connected the two shores bisected by the Nishiki River.

The first known bridge built was an ordinary girder bridge soon washed away by a storm. After the loss of the girder bridge, commuters to the castle used ferry boats. However, the they will often be out of service when the water levels rose. Therefore, when there was continuous bad weather, it was difficult for the commuters to gather to the castle hindering the process of policy making and administration procedures. Due to this, there was a growing desire amongst the people of Iwakuni to build a bridge, one that was so durable it could withstand a storm.

In 1673, to respond to the demands of the people of Iwakuni, Hiroyoshi Kikkawa ordered the construction of the first Kintaikyo as we know it today. Although the first one built was soon washed away, Kintaikyo was rebuilt the following year and stood for 276 years, living up to the promise of a durable bridge. After being hit by Typhoon Kezia in 1950, there were suggestions to rebuild the bridge with reinforced concrete; however, due to the strong requests by the citizens, Kintaikyo was once again rebuilt as a wooden bridge. From 2001 to 2004, the Heisei Rebuilding Project took place to replace the degraded wooden parts and the repaired bridge continues to awe its visitors.

The beautiful five-arch wooden piece of history, Kintaikyo stands proudly today and has been designated by the national government as a site of scenic beauty. This magnificent bridge has charmed the people of Japan for generations and has been featured in art pieces by some of Japan’s most renowned artists, including Katsushika Hokusai. The city of Iwakuni now bears the responsibility to preserve the bridge for present and future generations and they came up with a unique way to do so. To ensure the repeated rebuilding of the bridge, the city passed down rebuilding technology instead of reinforcing the existing bridge.

The history of Kintaikyo is deeply rooted with the history of the people of Iwakuni and knowing it has made the sight of Kintaikyo even more interesting. Since realizing the importance of Iwakuni Castle in the construction of the bridge, I try to include both Kintaikyo and Iwakuni Castle in the same snapshot, something that would not have crossed my mind before. A truly magnificent bridge to walk across with a sweet goal. Once you cross the bridge, there are two soft serve stores each with over 150 flavors from plain old vanilla to ayu (sweetfish)! Truly enjoy the Kintaikyo and Iwakuni Castle experience with a soft serve in one hand.  

Soft serve available once you cross the Kintaikyo bridge (Photo courtesy of Tina)

(Cooperation: Council of Local Authorities for International Relations)

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Tina Sato

Tina is a second-generation Japanese American born and raised in Irvine, Calif. She currently lives in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where she works as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in the prefectural government. On her free time, she enjoys hula dancing and painting.

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