Tokyo bridges and their late German relatives

If you want to get a glimpse of the Weimar Republic, one way to do it is by visiting Tokyo and walking along the Sumida River. There, you can see two famous bridges inspired by German bridges that didn’t manage to outlive the Third Reich.

Eitaibashi

Eitaibashi (“Long Reign Bridge”) is one of the most famous bridges in Tokyo, and rightfully so. It crosses the Sumida River close to what would naturally be Tokyo Bay, were it not for Odaiba and all the other little islands built up there over the last few decades.

Back in the days of old Edo, Eitaibashi was a sharply arched wooden bridge, as captured in this classic woodblock print by Toyoharu Utagawa. This first bridge was built in 1698 to commemorate the 50th birthday of the fifth Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. It was a Big Deal at the time, because the only other way to cross the river was by ferry.

The Tokugawas planned to dismantle the bridge in 1719, but the locals on the east side (the opposite side from central Edo) were so adamant on keeping the bridge that they agreed to take over the bridge themselves. This proved to be a bad idea, because the bridge collapsed in 1807 under the weight of travellers trying to get to the Tomioka Hachimangu shrine on the east side. 1,500 people died.

Although the later Tokugawas discussed building a second Eitaibashi, the Meiji Restoration put a hold on their plans, and the new bridge was not built until 1897. It was the first iron bridge in Japan, although much of it was made of wood. This also proved to be a bad idea, because the Tokyo earthquake of 1923 tore the wood apart and ruined the second bridge.

So the third and final Eitaibashi, constructed almost immediately after the earthquake, was built entirely of iron. It was modeled after the Bridge at Remagen on the Rhine River in Germany. This wasn’t a bad idea per se, although the Bridge at Remagen was itself ill-fated: the Germans blew it up to stop Allied troops from crossing into central Germany, inspiring a Hollywood production in the process.

Anyway, the third Eitaibashi is (perhaps miraculously) still intact. Its sky-blue paint job makes it not particularly picturesque during the day, but its lighting at night is downright gorgeous. The lights turn off around midnight, much like the Tokyo Tower’s.

Kiyosubashi

Kiyosubashi (“Pure Cay Bridge,” named after the adjoining districts of Kiyosumi and Nakasu), just up the river from Eitaibashi, is equally famous, although it’s more picturesque during the day thanks to its lovely blue paint job. It was also built right after the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, although it had no predecessor in that location since “central Tokyo” was not quite as big in those days.

The inspiration for Kiyosubashi was the old Mülheim Bridge in Cologne, not far from the Bridge at Remagen. Ironically, the Mülheim Bridge was also blown up, just days before the Remagen Bridge. This was only partially intentional. The Germans had set up explosive charges on the Mülheim so they could blow it up if the Allies began to cross. Then, before the Allied troops were even close to the bridge, a bomb went off near the bridge. The strengh of this bomb wasn’t enough to damage the bridge, but it was enough to set off the charges on the bridge, thus causing the Germans to suffer the ignominy of accidentally destroying their own bridge. A more modern, utilitarian Mülheim Bridge was built after the war and completed in 1951.

9 thoughts on “Tokyo bridges and their late German relatives

  1. Pingback: The Marmot’s Hole » Tokyo’s German bridges

  2. As did I! The Sumida is still one of my favorite places in Tokyo, even though it gets to smelling funky from time to time. It reminds me of the Intracoastal Waterway in South Florida, where I lived in high school, except that it’s not nearly as hot and humid for most of the year, and you can hop on the subway when you’re done walking around.

  3. I’m curious where you got this information from. The photos are great. I had no idea these bridges were that old.

  4. Do you have any idea where i can get more information on these two bridges?
    This article made me want to research them more ,

  5. interesting information and descriptive photos! I like the way you explained the name, pronunciation, and then added with a complete description of the bridge. AS well as helpful history to lead.

  6. germany has one of the main architectures of the planet, and that is atrazado you speak?
    excelent pictures, but did not like the title

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