Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Exploring Iwakuni

Joe and I took an hour train ride on Sunday to the town of Iwakuni to see one of Japan's three most famous bridges. The Kintai Kyo (Kintai Bridge) is designated as a "cultural asset" and marked as "the only five span wooden bridge of its type in the world."

Iwakuni also is home to a United States Marine Corp. base, but unfortunately it — and more importantly, its Taco Bell — is off limits to the public.

There were plenty of other things to see.

This bridge looks a lot more impressive in person than my camera captured. It's really a graceful sight. If I hadn't been near crippled from an over-strenuous work out at the gym the day before (a real slave driver of a trainer forced me to do some killer squats and dead lifts), then crossing the bridge probably would have been a bit of a gas. As it was, my trip across looked more like an event in the Special Olympics. Poor Joe was a real trooper putting up with me as I hobbled and lurched up all the tiny steps on each hill.

See that little old man sitting on the beach in each of these pictures? He's painting the bridge. It was like a scene out of a movie, seeing him there on the beach, beige weathered hat shading his face from the sun, peacefully painting that charming old bridge. I fully intended to stagger down there and take an artsy photo of him and his painting in the foreground with the bridge extending into the background. But I got distracted and forgot until the moment after I'd paid for my ticket to cross the bridge and handed it over. And a few drizzles chased the man away before we returned. Sigh. Such is life.

The underside of the bridge was a pretty cool sight, as well. Kind of a stairway to heaven, sort of, ay?

It's 634 feet long, which is about two football fields, though the hills add about 50 feet to the actual walking distance to make it across.

A sign informed visitors that originally, this bridge was built in 1673 after a flood "paralyzed local traffic." (I'm not sure what "traffic" looked like in 1673, are you?) It was destroyed by Typhoon Kezia in 1950 and an exact replica was reconstructed in 1953 at a cost of 120 million yen (about $1.2 million).

The sign says, "Surprisingly, the bridge as originally conceived is in complete accord with the most recent principles of civil engineering. It is a masterpiece of construction and functional form, although completed nearly 300 years ago."

On the other side of the bridge, we checked out several shrines and other Japanese structures.

There were a lot of stray cats wandering around. It's the same way in Peace Park in Hiroshima, too — feral cats everywhere.We never see stray animals anywhere else in the city except the parks, and I'm not sure why.

This little guy broke my heart. He was just one of many kitties in very sorry shape. I wish someone would do something to help these animals or put them out of their misery.

Next we caught a ride on the ropeway to the top of the mountain where Iwakuni Castle overlooks the city.

It's kind of spooky to look up into the mountains lining the city and see nothing but a sea of green until your eye lands on this structure overlooking it all. For some reason it reminds me of the Bates Motel.

I enjoyed the sign explaining the history of the castle, which read as follows:

"The Iwakuni Castle was planned and construction began in 1603 A.D. by the Feudal Lord Hiroie Kikkawa. He was sent to govern Iwakuni from his former post at Izumo in the Simane Prefecture, by the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo (Tokyo). Upon his arrival, the first thing the Lord Kikkawa did was to build his own castle. He selected the present castle site at Yokoyama, overlooking the Kintai bridge, mainly for its strategic viewpoint. It took over five years to build the former castle, which was completed in 1608. However, since overgrowing power of local lords was always a menace to central government in Tokyo, Tokugawa Shogunate, in order to maintain his military superiority, established a policy allowing only one castle in each state. Since Iwakuni was part of the Suo state, the Iwakuni Castle was destroyed in 1615. On March 21, 1962, 347 years after the castle was destroyed, the present Iwakuni Castle was rebuilt and opened to the public."

Wow! Can you believe they spent five years building such an intricate, breathtaking architectural beauty and then just tore it down seven years later? Amazing.

The inside is now a museum for samurai swords and other weapons of war, which was neat.

The view from the mountaintop didn't disappoint. I zoomed in a bit to take this.

What I really like about it is that you can see how tightly crammed together all the buildings and houses are. It always amazes me that when I look out the windows on the Astram in Hiroshima, all I see is an endless landscape of rooftops and high rises. It's the same here. Concrete everywhere.

And beyond all of it, you see a sweeping view of the Inland Sea.

It's incredible how much beauty is woven into the ugliness of the cities here.

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