Iwakuni: Bridge Over Peasant Waters

It is said that in the late 1600s, Iwakuni feudal lord Hiroyoshi Kikkawa determined he would build a bridge that neither floods nor foes could destroy. He sought out Chinese archetypal designs for an all-wooden bridge and in 1673, the 5-arched,  Kentaikyo Bridge was born. The all wooden bridge was built without a nail, its grandiose arches giving it vertical support. It allowed for quick passage over the Nishiki River, whose deadly currents had swept away every previous attempt. Kikkawa used the bridge to separate Iwakuni land by class – on his side of the river, where the grand Iwakuni Castle once sat atop Mt. Shiroyama (Castle Mountain), were the lords, their families, and of course, their samurai protectors. On the other side of the river lived the rest of the town. Rumors have it that Kikkawa granted only Samurai the permission to cross the river by way of the brudge; the peasants and peons were to cross by boat.

The bridge lived up to its strong and valorous destiny (unlike the samurai who walked it) for over 270 years, until a typhoon carried it away in 1950. By 1953, the bridge stood once more. Modern architects stayed true to the original design of the bridge, and visitors today would be hard pressed to find a single nail holding the famous bridge together.

Today, the Iwakuni Bridge, as it is commonly referred to as, is one of the “top three bridges” in Japan. (On a side note, Japan’s love of classifying things (EVERYTHING) into “top 3s” makes for a really easy, free travel guide!). The bridge is located in Yamaguchi Prefecture (kind of perfect for me), about halfway between Hikari and Hiroshima.

Iwakuni today is a medium-sized city of almost 147,000 people. It houses one of mainland Japan’s two American military bases, making it a giant “must-go” place for foreigners because of its abundance (or at least presence) of western food. Iwakuni was a prominent castle town during the Edo era (under which the bridge was built) and remnants can still be seen today. The great Iwakuni castle was torn down in 1615 due to the “Ikkoku-ichijo” (one castle per province) order decreed by the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was rebuilt in 1962 nearby to the original.

I went to Iwakuni my first weekend in Hikari. Jessica, my lovely, lovely, amazing predecessor, invited me to go with her to meet up with two other ALTs living in the Iwakuni area. We went shopping, explored local culture, delved into the history of the area……. or not at all. 🙂 We went primarily for food. There is a Mexican restaurant restaurant there. Seriously, Mexican in Japan. And it’s good! Then I was introduced to the best game on earth (besides Mario and DDR) — Taiko. It’s a possibility that the full name is “Taiko Drum Master.” I hope this is true. It’s a drumming game set to the beat of the taiko drums, of which I know nothing but that they are traditional. It’s similar to DDR – Dance Dance Revolution – in that you select a song and the level of difficulty and have to hit on the beat. It is great fun, and I can’t wait until we have it in America!

After Taiko, we did go “to the bridge.” We did, really, go to the bridge, but there happens to be an ice cream shop with over 100 flavors (including seaweed, of course!) right by the bridge. Both the ice cream and the bridge are astounding. It now costs a fee to walk over the bridge (silly peasants should never walk on the feudal lord’s bridge for free!) – 300yen, or a little over $3.00. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and finished the day eating at an izakya restaurant. They are most easily described as being… appetizer restaurants. Everyone orders different dishes and shares. They’re popular bar spots, too. I tried several new things, like salmon and gyoza, but in the end stuck with my trusty chicken and rice.

I will definitely be back to Iwakuni – to settle up unfinished business: hike to the castle, walk over the bridge and, of course, eat more Mexican!

Iwakuni Bridge / Kentai Bridge - This was my view of it walking along the river. It's easy to see why it's one of Japan's three best bridges.

Iwakuni Bridge / Kentai Bridge - This was my view of it walking along the river. It's easy to see why it's one of Japan's three best bridges.

Oshima Island ALT Whitney and my predecessor Jessica prove they are the Taiko Drum Masters

Oshima Island ALT Whitney and my predecessor Jessica prove they are the Taiko Drum Masters

All Americans have guns, didn't know you that?! These are all taken in a department store. Every dept. store I have seen has 5-6 flores: the first is a grocery store, the second clothes, etc, etc and the highest floor is a full-out arcade. America needs to get up to speed!

*Things students believe about Americans* All Americans have guns, didn't know you that?! These are all taken in a department store. Every dept. store I have seen has 5-6 floors: the first is a grocery store, the second clothes, etc, etc and the highest floor is a full-out arcade. America needs to get up to speed!

I was tempted to steal a picture or two from the internet of the Iwakuni Castle, but I’ll save it until I actually go myself!

Next post: First Enkai – Belting bon Jovi with the Co-workers!

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~ by C on August 19, 2009.

One Response to “Iwakuni: Bridge Over Peasant Waters”

  1. […] I hanami‘d in Iwakuni, at the Kintaikyo Bridge. I hear it’s the best place in all of Yamaguchi for cherry blossoms. I marveled at the crowds […]

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