Five high arches gives the Kintaikyo Bridge its iconic form. The arches is said to represent Japan’s main island- western Honshu, and was thought to make crossing the river more difficult for enemy armies. The bridge was originally built in 1673 from Japanese cypress, chestnut and oak, without the use of nails. The bridge is in the city of Iwakuni in the Yamaguchi Prefecture and spans the Nishiki River. A typhoon destroyed the bridge in 1950 but it was rebuilt in 1953, this time with the use of parts of the original bridge and traditional techniques while incorporating nails made from tatara iron which was once used to forge swords.
The Kintaikyo Bridge leads to Kikko Park. Here visitors can see many 19th century buildings, including the Kikko shrine, a wooden storehouse constructed in 1885 – called Kinunkaku, and homes where samurai families once lived. About 3 minutes away, and 200 up visitors will find Iwakuni Castle. Iwakuni Castle has samurai armour and artefacts on display. A climb to the top of the observatory rewards visitors with magnificent views of Iwakuni and the surrounding areas.
Another interesting reward for crossing the bridge is the two rival ice-cream shops found on the other side. Both shops insist that they are the ‘original’ and both offer 100 different flavours which include unique flavours like wasabi, tomato and sweet potato. The shops have a friendly rivalry that extends so far that they have been nicknamed Sasaki Kojiro and miyamoto Musashi – after two rival samurai.
The area around the Kintaikyo Bridge and Kikko Park is extremely photogenic. It was awarded two stars in the 2013 Michelin Green Guide to Japan. The aspect of the bridge especially, changes throughout the day and the year. The different seasons are striking here. Each spring (March to April) nearly 3000 cherry trees blossom in Kikko Park and around the Bridge, making it one of the top 100 places in Japan to see the cherry blossoms. The pinks slowly fade into summer and then autumn, when the surrounding foliage turn red, orange, yellow and brown.
The Kintaikyo Iwakuni Fireworks Festival is the second biggest fireworks show in the prefecture and happens annually on the first Saturday of August. Although the duration of the show is only about an hour and a half long, visitors tend to make a day of the festivities. People often spend the day picnicking on the banks of the river and playing in the water or enjoying food from the nearby stalls. Game stalls are set up in the area to provide entertainment, and taiko drum performances start around sunset with the fireworks following at 8 p.m.
The area around the Kintaikyo bridge is quaint and offer visitors a reprieve from the larger Japanese cities. While the bridge alone is enough to attract tourists, the promise of festivities, fireworks cherry blossoms and 100 flavours of ice-cream makes this area even more appealing for those visiting Japan.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com