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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Yanagibashi Bridge in Taito Ward Tokyo

柳橋 台東区

Yanagibashi Bridge photographed from the Chuo ward end, Tokyo.

Taito ward is, geographically, Tokyo's smallest ward, and lies about 3km slightly north-east of the Imperial Palace. Bordering it to the east is the Sumida River, flowing roughly north-south. Across the Sumida River is Sumida ward, most famous for its sumo district of Ryogoku, and for the Tokyo Sky Tree.

Another river, the Kanda River, defines Taito ward's southern border. The Kanda flows into the Sumida River at Taito ward's south-eastern corner. That district of Taito ward is called Yanagibashi, or "Willow Bridge."

The bridge across the Kanda River at that point has a long history, having first been built in 1698 as the Rivermouth Exit Bridge (Kawaguchi Deguchi no Hashi). The military government, or Bakufu, that ruled Japan at that time had a spear depository in the area, meaning the bridge was also known as the Spear Depository Bridge (Yanokura-bashi) or the Spear Fortress Bridge (Yanoki-bashi).

Distant Yanagibashi Bridge, photographed from the Taito ward end, Tokyo.

The bridge only became known under its present name, Yanagibashi, or "Willow Bridge," from the second decade of the 18th century. This may have been a corruption of Yanoki-bashi, and/or it may have been because of the willows that grew by the river near the bridge.

Then at the end of the nineteenth century, 1895, the old wooden bridge was replaced with an iron bridge. This was replaced again in the twentieth century, 1929, with the current iron bridge.

Crossing Yanagibashi Bridge at night, Taito ward, Tokyo.

In the Edo era, the banks of the Kanda River were lined with inns for sailors and bar-cum-restaurants, making for a very lively district. Then following the Meiji Restoration when the regime changed from the military Bakufu to modern Western-style government, the Yanagibashi district became famous as a pleasure quarter. It was immortalized most famously by the poet, Masaoka Shiki, (1867-1902) in his poem:
Spring evening, Yanagibashi, a woman turns my head
(Haru no yo ya, onna migaeru Yanagibashi)
The Meiji period ukiyoe painter and printmaker, Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915), also featured bustling, carefree Yanagibashi in many of his works.

The Yanagibashi district of Taito ward, named after the bridge, is now a sleepy hollow by night, and the only bustle is the coming and going by day of trucks and other delivery vehicles to and from the many wholesalers that populate the area. However, the antique yet stylish old green bridge, especially with its orange lights at nighttime, still invokes something of the magic that Yanagibashi was once known for.

Yanagibashi Bridge photographed from the Taito ward end, Tokyo.

The pictures here are of Yanagibashi Bridge by night, its industrial steel construction softened by the gracious curves of its design.

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