Monday, September 15, 2014

Kintaikyo Bridge - Iwakuni

During the O-bon Holidays this year, we visited Hiroshima. This was our first visit to the Chugoku region. The Chugoku region, literally translates to Central Country and is the western part of Japan's main Honshu island.Of the many tourist attractions in the region, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Iwakuni's Kintaikyo Bridge are the most popular. 

On our trip to Hiroshima, we first visited Iwakuni. Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture is well known as a military base. Iwakuni was a castle town of the Iwakuni Han, a domain formed by the Feudal Lord Kikkawa Hiroie. The Iwakuni Han prospered during the Edo period and ruled for about 300 years until the Meiji Restoration. 

Kikkawa Hiroie was banished to the region after his defeat in the Battle of Sekigahara. Having lost his castle in Izumo, Kikkawa decided to build a new castle on Mt Yokoyama, by the banks of the Nishiki River. A natural bend in the river served as a moat to the castle. The upper class samurai lived on the castle side of the river and the low ranking samurai and merchants lived on the other side. In the early days of the castle, people had to cross the river on small boats to get to the other side of town. The river was also prone to flooding so the third Lord of Iwakuni, Kikkawa Hiroyoshi decided to commission a bridge to connect both sides of town. For 195 years, only the upper class samurai and the Lord and their families were permitted to cross the bridge. The bridge was off limits to common people who continued to use boats to cross the river. It was only in 1868 that the bridge was opened to public ! 

Today the Kintai-kyo bridge is the symbol of Iwakuni. The Bridge is one of Japan's three famous Bridges, collectively known as Nihon Sanmeikyo. What makes the bridge unique, is its architecture. 
The Bridge is 200 meters long and 5 meters wide and is completely made of wood and without the use of a single nail. Its five elegant wooden arches are supported by four massive stone piers and two wooden piers making it an engineering wonder. 
When Kikkawa Hiroyoshi commissioned the bridge, the challenge was to build one that would withstand floods. All previous attempts had proven futile as the Nishiki river was prone to flooding.
The original Kintaikyo bridge was built in 1673 but it too was washed away in a year. It was replaced with a stronger bridge in 1674 and this lasted for 276 years till 1950 when it suffered significant damage during Typhoon Kijiya. Restoration work was carried out and the bridge was reopened in January 1953. The bridge was designated a National Treasure in 1922. The most recent renovations were extensive and were completed in 2004 and cost over 2 billion yen. 
Visitors can cross the bridge for a fee of 300 yen.
On the other side of the bridge, is the Kikko Park, a large park built on the site of the feudal Lord Kikkawa's former residence.
Few old buildings remain and provide an insight into the samurai houses of the past.
A statue of Kikkawa Hiroyoshi, stands at the entrance of the park. 
Exhibits, artifacts and documents belonging to the Kikkawa family are on display in the Iwakuni Choko-kan Museum in the park. The park also houses the Iwakuni Historical Art Museum. The White Snake Park in the Kikko Park is home to a rare species of white snakes found only in Iwakuni. The white snakes are considered to be a symbol of Benzaiten, the Japanese Goddess of good fortune, love and luck. As such many people come to pray to them for success and prosperity in Business. The snakes have been designated as a natural monument of Japan.

Interestingly there are a few shops that sell ice creams at the entrance to Kikko Park. These ice creams come in various flavours; we even saw Garlic flavored ice cream in one shop !

A cable car ride from near the Kikko Park takes visitors to the Iwakuni Castle atop the Mt Yokoyama, overlooking Iwakuni city . The castle was first constructed in 1608 by Kikkawa Hiroie only to be demolished 7 years later in 1615 on the orders of the Tokugawa Shogunate. 
In the above picture, the castle is visible in the distance. The current castle is a 1962 reconstruction and is considered to be one of Japan's 100 great castles.  The Kintaikyo Bridge was once the the bridge to the main gate of the castle. An observation deck on the top floor of the castle keep offers a panoramic view of the city below.

The Kintai-kyo bridge and the castle also feature on Iwakuni's manhole cover.

Address: 741-0062 Yamaguchi Prefecture, Iwakuni, 1 Chome , Kintai Kyo

Opening Hours: Always open. 

Closing Dates: None

Admission : 300 yen ( round trip- Bridge only)

Combination Ticket: 940 yen ( Bridge, Castle and Ropeway )

Parking: Car parking available along the riverbank.

Official Website: Click Here 

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