Most Amazing Bridges In Japan
by Jordan Mounteer
Japanese architecture has always fascinated and astounded me, from the modern skyscrapers that hallmark the Tokyo skyline to the ancient temples hidden away in the mountains that have survived hundreds of years of Pacific storms and blistering summer days. So much of what makes their architectural wonders stand out in the imagination is the way in which they seem to follow the natural symmetry of the environment, and Shintoism and Buddhism both have definitely played a role in shaping the history of building in Japan.
However, one of the most fascinating areas of construction has to be the history of bridge building in Japan – from the most modern technological wonders made of cement and steel to the ancient trellises of wood and stone which are still a staple of Japan’s villages.
Meganebashi – Nagasaki
The first bridge on our list owes the fact that it is widely considered to be the oldest bridge in Japan. It is also fitting that the double archway is located in Nagasaki, which has historically been a kind of metaphorical bridge between Japan and the rest of the world during a time when the country under Imperial law was cut off and resisted contact with other nations. The bridge, also known as Meganebashi (or the Spectacles Bridge), was originally built in 1634, and owes its peculiar nickname to the fact that the double archways, when reflected in the waters of the Nakashima River that it spans over, tends to look a little like a pair of reading glasses. That isn’t to say the bridge hasn’t had its share of troubles over the centuries. In 1982 a number of other bridges along the Nakashima River were actually destroyed in a flood, but luckily the Meganebashi managed to escape with only minor injuries and it was quickly repaired – today, it still stands and is an important historical and cultural monument.
Kintai Bridge – Iwakuni
Speaking of traditional bridges, we have to include the Kintai Bridge on this list. Located in Iwakuni, this magnificent structure is much larger than the Meganebashi, and consists of five arches that reach across the Nishiki River and leads to the Iwakuni Castle. In actuality, it has an even longer history that dates back to 1608, but it has been rebuilt numerous times since its original construction, even though one of its incarnations managed to last an incredible 276 years before being destroyed by a flood. Today the bridge has extra support, and relies on a traditional Japanese mortise and tendon framework – such techniques are ancient and have been handed down through the generations, but what makes them stand out is the fact that such strategies of construction don’t rely on nails and instead use ‘puzzle like’ cuts which interlock different components. This also has the benefit of keeping the overall structure of the bridge together in the event that flood waters overtake it, and rather than tearing apart some of the more permanent structures and columns, the wooden archways will simply ‘float’ away.
Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge – Kobe
This was a favorite bridge when I lived in Himeji because I would often see it when I took the train to visit Kobe or Osaka. The bridge, which has one of the longest spans of any suspension bridge in the world (at 1991 meters), is a seminal sight for anyone traveling through Kansai, and connects the city of Kobe and the main island of Honshu to the small island of Awaji (and beyond that, to Shikoku). One of the best places to get a view of the bridge is if you pull off along the side of the shoreline where there is a perfectly situated Starbucks which has a huge window where you can sit and enjoy a coffee as you take in the grandeur of it. On a sunny summer day, it offers a great backdrop to meet old friends and reminisce – of course, if you’re feeling more adventurous, it’s also possible to take a tour of the bridge where you can follow a guide to the very top of one of the bridges spires. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, as the winds can be quite strong, but the views are absolutely stunning and second to none.
Rainbow Bridge – Tokyo
It took me a long time to actually get around to seeing this bridge, but during my last visit to Tokyo I was glad I didn’t miss it. The Rainbow Bridge, as it is affectionately known as, connected central mainland Tokyo to the island of Odaiba. The reason it’s called the Rainbow Bridge is evident at night when multi-colored lights paint it in a veritable spectrum which can be seen from miles around. The columns, which are painted white to blend into the Tokyo skyline during the day, are illuminated in red, green, and blue at night giving the 798 meter long bridge the look of something out of a fairy tale. The nice thing about this bridge (unlike the Akashi-Kaikyo) is that there is a walkway underneath the main carriage where you can actually traverse by foot for free. Near the pillars are also benches, perfect for resting while you gaze out across the harbor and city while you contemplate life and watch the ships pass by underneath.
Kazurabashi – Iya
The last bridge on our list goes back to ancient times. Throughout some of the rural areas in Japan, bridges have traditionally been constructed from vines for hundreds of years. Also known as kazurabashi, these interwoven bridges were once a very popular site, but today there are only around three of them still in existence. The most famous is in Iya, and though it does consist of vines and follows the same building methods which have defined this type of architecture, nowadays it is reinforced with steel cables. Nevertheless, it’s still a remarkable feat of engineering, and the 45 foot bridge still evokes a sense of vertigo as it hovers over the Iya River. The bridge itself undergoes maintenance every three years, and is anchored to towering old-growth cedar trees on either side – and while it may not be on every tourist’s bucket list, it’s by far one of the most interesting bridges you’ll ever walk across.
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