In our days, if you put the word “bridge” next to the word “Tokyo” the listener will immediately think of the “Rainbow Bridge” (or “Rehnboo Briji” in Japanese), a suspended and imaginatively illuminated technological miracle that crosses the Tokyo Bay at its northern part, joining Minato municipality’s Shibaura area with the artificial island Odaiba, once a fortress for Edo and today one of the most popular tourist attractions. But in a city filled with rivers of various lengths and sizes it is unavoidable to have countless more bridges; sometimes big enough to accommodate three car lanes and a railway track and sometimes small enough to miss unless you get right to their entrance.
Starting with Nihon-bashi, the eternal point zero for all distance measurements in Japan and old time center of Edo which for the last fifty years has been shadowed by an elevated expressway, dozens of bridges connect the two banks of the rivers Sumida, Kanda, Arakawa, Tama, Edo and Shakuji; the cruises in the Sumida River pass under 12 of them, starting from the crimson red Azuma-bashi in Asakusa and ending at the Tsukiji fish-market and the grey Kachidoki-bashi once a bascule bridge that opened so the boats passing under it could exit the bay and enter the Pacific. And these are only a few of the almost 500 bridges that existed up until the early 20th century, when the Meiji emperor’s fast track to modernity closed many of the channels they bridged so streets where the new four-wheel vehicles coming from the East (that is, from the West) and the future could run.
The course of the emperor who, like a bridge himself joined the 19th to the 20th century and the kimono with the crinolines is continuing until today; and this course passes over Tokyo’s bridges. Their wooden beams have been replaced with steel ones and the open-air bazaars at their banks have been replaced with concrete lanes which at night frequently play host to clochards, couples or groups of friends who eat, drink, smoke and talk but the bridges themselves still remain radiating an air of romanticism and old times, especially when the sky is cloudy. The bridges of Tokyo connect more than the banks of the city’s watery arteries: they bridge the ages that have passed over it.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.