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The bridges across the Sumida River

The Sumida River covers a distance of 27 km from Kita-ku to Tokyo Bay, but its most interesting section is – of course! – the one that runs through the shitamachi.

Today, in the second part of my Sumida series, I'll cover the lower section from Shirahigebashi to Eitaibashi. I originally included extra information about the river's main shrines, for example a shrine that's dedicated to the river god himself, but the post got so long that you would've fallen asleep halfway through. Let's focus on the bridges, and then I'll interrupt my series with an extra post about the gods.

This section has the most interesting bridges, several of which were constructed by Kawasaki Steel Construction (currently Kawasaki Heavy Industries) after older bridges collapsed in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. The company rebuilt a total of 25 bridges using 16 000 tonnes of steel after that quake, including Shirahigebashi, Kiyosubashi and Eitaibashi. The Sumida bridges became famous for their cutting-edge technology as well as their intricate designs: Kiyosubashi's upper cables boast the first high-tensile steel produced in Japan, and Eitaibashi is well-known for its massive steel arch.

Eitaibashi. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Serendipity: while I was writing this post, I spotted an article in The Japan News that referred to Tokyo's ageing infrastructure. I quote: 
The maintenance of metropolitan roads costs 50 billion yen to 60 billion yen annually, with about 13 billion yen of that used for bridges. In this fiscal year, work to increase corrosion and earthquake resistance of bridges are scheduled to begin on the Eaitaibashi bridge on the Sumidagawa river, Hijiribashi bridge over Kandagawa river and others to extend their life span.
The rest of the post will be a fairly dry, factual list of the shitamachi bridges across the Sumida. We'll take 'em one by one. Please note that I haven't included Google maps; once I've done all the bridges, I'll publish a complete map. Suffice it to say that the first bridge on the list, Shirahigebashi, is about 2 km north of Sensō-ji in Asakusa, and that the last bridge, Eitaibashi, is about 7 km downriver from Shirahigebashi. 


Facts: name in kanji 白鬚, completed 1931, length 167.6 m, width 24.1 m.

Ironically enough I don't have my own photo of the first bridge, Shirahigebashi. I'm not sure how it happened, but I skipped this one! Not to worry: you can see photos of all the bridges in the Japanese Wikipedia article about the Sumida River (link). 

When it was originally constructed in 1914, it was a toll road with a fee of 2 sen (one sen is 1/100th of a yen). The current bridge dates from 1931.

The most interesting fact about Shirahigebashi is that it's close to the spot where the Tone River originally flowed through Edo before it was diverted to the east in the Tokugawa era. I was astonished when I saw old maps. Clearly our rivers don't currently flow where the gods intended them to flow:

Edit added 14 July 2013: I finally had a chance to take photos of Shirahigebashi. Good timing: the bridge is currently being renovated, in other words, here's proof that the Sumida's old iron bridges receive a lot of TLC.



Facts: name in kanji , completed 1985, length 169.5 m, width 6 m, pedestrians only.

Sakurabashi is an X-shaped bridge that's for pedestrians only. It was completed in 1985, and it's probably my least favourite bridge due to the awkward (I'm being polite: it's not awkward, it's plain ugly) modern art that it inexplicably displays.

Sakurabashi is a pedestrian bridge.

Pyramid thingie


Facts: name in kanji 言問, completed 1928, length 238.7 m, width 22 m.

Kototoibashi is one of many bridges built after the Great Kantō Earthquake. It was completed in 1928, rather badly damaged in the American firebomb attacks of World War II, but subsequently repaired and strengthened. I've read that many residents fled to this bridge during the raids, desperately trying to escape the sea of flames.

The bridge is named after a waka poem by Ariwara no Narihira, in which he asks (こと問 kototoi) the seagulls whether his loved one still lives in this area.


Cherry blossom decorations on Kototoibashi

Engineering stuff

The blue tents of the homeless, all along the river. They don't hassle
passersby, don't beg, don't litter.

Fireworks decorations on the river railing


Facts: name in kanji 吾妻, completed 1931, length 150.1 m, width 20 m.

This is it! This is the famous red bridge between Sensō-ji on the western bank and Sky Tree on the eastern bank. I don't know how many times I've walked across this particular bridge.

It's one of the oldest across the Sumida: it used to be a ferry in 1774, but a wooden bridge was built in 1887 and replaced by the current iron bridge in 1931. Azuma, incidentally, means east.

While I was researching this bridge, I learned a lot about engineering. The bridge has expansion joints, which (according to Wikipedia) "are designed to allow for continuous traffic between structures accommodating movement, shrinkage, temperature variations on reinforced and prestressed concrete, composite and steel structures. They stop the bridge from bending out of place in extreme conditions and allow enough vertical movement to permit bearing replacement without the need to dismantle the bridge expansion joint."


It's been carrying us safely since 1931.

Fireworks decorations on Azumabashi. The Sumidagawa Fireworks
Festival is held near here every August.


Facts: name in kanji 駒形, completed 1927, length 146.3 m, width 25.2 m.

Komagatabashi was finished in 1927, and is named after a nearby temple called Komagata-dō (駒形堂), where the horse-headed Batō-Kannon (馬頭観音), protector of animals, is worshipped.

You will understand why this is one of my favourite bridges. Horses! Happy.


That's Komagata-dō, the small temple that gave the bridge its name,
seen from the opposite bank of the river.

Bridges under bridges


Facts: name in kanji  , completed 1929, length 151.4 m, width 21.8 m.

Two reasons to love this bridge: there used to be a shogunate stable nearby, and it's as near as damnit to where I live.

Ferries used to cross the river at this point until the first bridge was constructed in 1875. The current bridge was finished in 1923.

My research taught me that this bridge has stone newels, or upright posts that help to support the bridge. Now you know.


This is also one of my favourites: I love its curves.

You can rent these boats for a private dinner party on the river.

This section, between Umayabashi and Azumabashi, is my favourite walk
along the river: it's a natural gravel path with lots of trees.

You can see Umayabashi through the trees ... 

... and Komagatabashi.


Facts: name in kanji 蔵前, completed 1927, length 173.2 m, width 22.3 m.

Kuramaebashi, completed in 1927, is named after rice storehouses that used to be in this area in the Edo era, which also explains why this particular bridge is yellow. Rice is yellow, isn't it? (I love the fact that each bridge has a different colour.)

It's a rather attractive bridge with old-fashioned lamp posts, stone piers and a railing design that depicts sumo wrestlers. Interestingly enough sumo wrestlers grace this particular bridge rather than Ryōgokubashi, which is much closer to Tokyo's main sumo district.


Blue tents that belong to homeless people.

I love this bridge!

Sumo wrestler decoration on Kuramaebashi

So simple, so lovely


Facts: name in kanji 両国, completed 1932, length 164.5 m, width 24 m.

Ryōgokubashi was originally the second-oldest bridge across the Sumida (the oldest was Senju-Oohashi, originally built in 1594). The first wooden bridge was constructed in 1658, the first iron bridge in 1904 and the current bridge in 1932. I don't have a photo of this bridge, so here's a print of the original wooden structure.


Facts: name in kanji 新大, completed 1977, length 170 m, width 24.5 m.

The previous bridges were all in Taitō-ku, but we've now moved into Kōtō-ku.

The first bridge on this spot was finished in 1693, in other words, it was the third bridge ever across the Sumida. (To repeat: the oldest was Senju-Oohashi, 1594; second was Ryōgokubashi, 1658; third was Shin-Oohashi, 1693.) An iron bridge was constructed in 1885, replaced in 1912, finally replaced with a cable-stayed bridge in 1977. (Some sources say 1976, but a year is but a brief candle, a walking shadow … )

I love this bridge: it's minimalistic, graceful and a cheerful yellow. Its two towers are 40 m tall and each supports two cables. More engineering terms: it has a caisson, a "watertight retaining structure used, for example, on the foundations of a bridge pier". I wouldn't be able to identify a caisson if it kissed me, but there you have it.

Shin-Oohashi is such a simple, beautiful bridge.
I clearly have a thing for yellow bridges.


Facts: name in kanji 清洲, completed 1928, length 186.2 m, width 22 m.

As far as I'm concerned, Kiyosubashi, completed in 1928, is the most beautiful of all the bridges across the Sumida. It was finished in 1928 and was modeled after a suspension bridge across the Rhine (at Cologne), and it's regarded as an Important Cultural Property.

I've read that this is a self-anchored suspension bridge, which is an uncommon design; and it's also rare because it has steel links instead of cables. I'm afraid I have no idea what that means, but I've read enough to know it's unusual enough to repeat in my little post.

Kiyosubashi is the most beautiful bridge on the Sumida River.

Just look at that arch!



Facts: name in kanji 隅田川大橋, completed 1979, length 210 m, width 30 m.

The next bridge is Sumidagawa-Oohashi, but it's just an ugly utilitarian design that transports vehicles across the Sumida on the Metropolitan Expressway Nr 9. We move on.

Ah, well, can't complain if I can see Sky Tree!


Facts: name in kanji  永代, completed 1926, length 184.7 m, width 22 m.

Eitaibashi was originally a timber bridge that was finished in 1696, but it was replaced with a steel structure in 1926. That makes it the oldest current bridge across the Sumida.

This used to be the end of the Sumida, where it flowed into Tokyo Bay, but so many artificial islands have been constructed in the bay that the river itself has been artificially lengthened.

It's the last bridge in what I refer to as the "main" Sumida: just after this bridge, the river splits into two, flowing around the artificial islands Tsukudajima, Tsukishima and Kachidoki.

It's also a good place to stop this post. I'll interrupt my series with a post that focuses on the river's shrines, temples and other spots worth a mention (like Bashō's hut), and then we'll continue with Part 3, from Aioibashi to Kachidokibashi. Incidentally, I originally intended to stop this post in Taitō, in other words at Ryōgokubashi, but then I decided to cover all the old iron bridges in one post.


The skyscrapers (all condominiums) on Tsukudajima, where the Sumida
splits into two. I took this photo from Eitaibashi.

OK, that's it. Go have a beer. You deserve it.


The Sumida: Changing Perceptions of a River by Paul Waley, article published in Revue de Géographie de Lyon Année, 1990, Volume 65

Japan in the 21st Century: Environment, Economy, and Society by Pradyumna Karan

Fourth International Conference on Current and Future Trends in Bridge Design, edited by B. I. G. Barr

Sumida River series

You can read my first Sumida River post about flood control here.

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