The Stories behind Japan's Bridges
Traveling across Japan, we can find many bridges of all shapes and sizes. In Tokyo, building modern bridges was one way to join the club of advanced industrial nations in the late 19th century, when Japan was vying to catch up with Western technology. A small bridge in Iwate Prefecture is hand-made. Even if relatively few people use it, it is an important crossing for the local community. Today, we hear the story of bridges linking communities throughout Japan.

The Bridge that Helped Build Tokyo

In Tokyo, the Sumida River is unique in the variety of its bridges. The reasons for this date back to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which leveled the city. If all the bridges were rebuilt with exactly the same structure, they would all start needing maintenance at exactly the same time. They would also all be destroyed by the same size of future tremor. Additionally, building a variety of bridges allowed engineers to gain experience with a range of techniques. As a result, Sumida River is like an exhibition of bridge-building skills.

A Bridge with a Place in their Hearts

Matsubi Bridge in Sumita Town, Iwate, dates from samurai times. It's 40 meters in length. Made from wood, it was built by local people. Matsubi Bridge is designed to break and wash away whenever the water rises after heavy rain. A stronger bridge will catch floating timbers at its base, raising the risk of flooding, and so the bridge is deliberately designed to collapse. No matter how many times the bridge is washed away, the local people work together to build another.

A Bridge Where You Can't Look Back

On the Togetsukyo Bridge, in Arashiyama, Kyoto Prefecture, it is said that those crossing the bridge should never look back. The Ju-san ceremony is held at the temple of Horin-ji as the spring arrives. Ju-san means "thirteen." The ceremony celebrates the growing independence of children reaching thirteen. The children receive the wisdom of the Kokuzo Bosatsu, the main guardian of the temple. However, if any child looks back as they cross the bridge, the knowledge will fly back too, and that is why they are not supposed to look back at all until they have reached the other side.