Sakura trees and an evening in Iwakuni

Sakura trees and an evening in Iwakuni

On my first train ride to Kudamatsu City (where we live) we swapped trainlines at Iwakuni city. At the station I saw some foreigners sitting on the floor with rucksacks.
(Japanese rule: Do not sit on the floor **unless absolutely need to**)
I asked Riku, “is it not odd to find a group of foreigners in this region of Japan?”
He then told me Iwakuni City has an American base, and these guys were probably travelling around from that area.
I concluded that Iwakuni is an American base and probably doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of Cultural Japanese monuments.

Boy was I wrong.

Iwakuni City is actually a large City with the American base set at the port. Because of the base, there are many restaurants where staff speak English instead of Japanese. But, if you travel north of the city you can find the old town of Iwakuni,Β  Iwakuni Castle, Kintai Bridge and the Shiro-hebi museum (white snake museum).

photo showing span of iwakuni kintaikyo bridge with japanese river boats in the foreground
Kintai bridge viewed from the “commoner” side of Nishiki river. Japanese river boats now used as a tourist attraction travel across the water.

One of the highlights in Iwakuni is Kintai Bridge.

The Bridge was first built in 1673 by Kikkawa Hiroyoshi. It was reconstructed every 20 years to ensure it would not be washed away in a flood.

In 1608 Iwakuni castle was built by Kikkawa Hiroie and a route was needed to cross the Nishiki river. A series of bridges were constructed after the building of the castle and each was washed away, until the structure of Kintaikyo. The bridge is made of 6 stone piers and five arches. Unfortunately the bridge was washed away the following year. In 1674 the bridge was rebuilt stronger. This time it lasted 276 years until a typhoon in 1950.

The current version of the bridge is around 175 meters in length and has a width of about 5 meters. The pathway of the bridge is built using Mortise and Tenon joints (loosely fitting wooden joints) so that if there was to be a flood, the pathway would be lifted and washed away by the river, whilst the main structure of the bridge is spared.

Kintai bridge is one of the Nihon Sanmeikyo (Three famous bridges of Japan). It is also designated as one of the top 100 areas to view Sakura (cherry blossom).

Last month I visited the Kintai bridge 3 times.

Sakura was in full bloom on my first trip to the bridge. People were swarming by the water, enjoying the blossom with their hanami (cherry blossom picnics) set up beneath the bridge. A range of food stalls were placed along the riverside.

We parked up south of the bridge, on the rocky river bed and avoided the Kintai bridge toll by not actually crossing Kintaikyo and instead heading north to the bridge just a little further up the river. (No charge here)

The area of Kintaikyo was booming with people all the way up to the top of Kikko Park. There, you can catch the ropeway up to Iwakuni Castle. (I didn’t go this time as I thought the castle might too over crowded – a post for another time).

I took some nice shots of Kikko shrine in the cherry blossom at the north of Kikko Park. Even further north I was able to find a quiet sanctuary in Shirayama Hime Shrine, where just a few locals were praying for good fortune. Shirayama shrine seemed a whole world away from the hanami parties that were happening just a few hundred meters south.

The next day, I returned to Kintaikyo Bridge (Yup, within just a few hours). This time I was with a group of friends and we stayed until the sun went down. We watched the river boats make their rounds and the lanterns turn on in the evening dusk.

No matter how late and dark the night got, the hanami parties continued. People were enjoying their food and drinks underneath the sakura trees.

After enjoying our own little hanami, we headed to a Tex Mex restaurant near the American base. We were a group of four. With three of us from the UK and one Japanese-American, we were the odd table out in a room full of Americans. (Seriously…not a single Japanese table) The staff chose to only speak in english – it was the easiest meal I’ve had to order in western Japan.

About a week later, my mum was in Japan. That meant one last trip to Iwakuni bridge to enjoy the cherry blossoms before they were to disappear for another year.

In addition to my mum, we were also joined by Riku’s parents from Kobe. This was their first time in Yamaguchi Prefecture so we also needed to show them the sights.

A few hours prior to Iwakuni we had visited Miyajima Island where we spent about 5 hours exploring the island. Heading back towards Kudamatsu City we stopped by Iwakuni to view the bridge and sakura.

It was dark.

We found that after a certain time the bridge toll gates close but the pathway was left open. There is a box asking for you to pay your fee of 300 yen to cross the bridge – Japan often relies on trust like this.

The sakura was dying off and the lights were dimming, but the bridge was just as majestic as always.
It was a great place to end the perfect day in West Japan.

Kintai bridge in the night
Kintai Bridge in the evening glow.

I would most definitely recommend a visit to Iwakuni Kintai Bridge. If possible, do it during the sakura season.

Getting to Iwakuni Kintaikyo bridge

If you want to visit Iwakuni Kintai Bridge, take the bus from Iwakuni train station to Kintaikyo bus stop. The bus fee is 300 yen and takes about 20 minutes. Another bus from Shin-Iwakuni station costs 350 yen and takes around 15 minutes.

Fee for the bridge is 300 yen, or 950 yen for the bridge and Iwakuni castle joint ticket.
Alternatively, you can either cross on the north bridge or during evening time, cross for free.

You can find more information on Kintai bridge and Iwakuni city by clicking here.

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