2005/05/16

A Bridge Too Far

In early May we drove up to a place in the low mountains of Northern Ibaraki called Suifu Village (known as "the treasurebox of nature"). The weather was beautiful - warm and clear. The area is even more rural than Naka and the hills or low mountains are lush with trees and bamboo. The wisteria trees are in bloom and look like a lavender version of Hawaii's shower trees. We only drove 60 miles, but it took over two hours as the fastest road we were on had a limit of 50 kmh or about 30 mph, and we had to go through surface streets of Mito city as well. Our average speed for the trip was 25 mph. [I am not complaining. We got to see a lot more than one would at freeway speeds.]

Our destination was a gorge where a flood control dam is located. Above the reservoir, spanning the gorge, is a steel suspension foot bridge 310 meters long (a little over 1,000 feet), called Ryujinkyo (god of the dragon) bridge. It is the longest pedestrian foot bridge in Japan. It goes to, well, nowhere actually. Why did the chicken cross the bridge? To fly a carp streamer I guess. It was built simply as a tourist attraction so people could enjoy the views of the otherwise unscarred natural beauty. Inscrutable logic - like those people who wanted to put an ariel tram across Haleakala. "This is such a beautiful unspoiled place, we should build a tourist attraction here!". On the other hand, Japan is a densely populated country, and places like this allow everyone from kids to retired folks to enjoy nature easily. The bridge has a nice wide walkway and plexiglas panels at a few points that allow you to stand on the plexiglas and look straight down at the lake some 300 feet below your feet.

There were two cables stretched across the gorge, one on either side of the bridge about fifty to a hundred feet out, with hundreds of koinobori - carp streamers - on each one, in honor of Children's Day. It was a pretty sight as the carp filled and moved with each breathe of wind and appeared to swim through the air. The sound was neat too, like sails luffing. The bridge was closed for an hour just before we went across it due to the wind being too high. Comforting thought.
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Flying koinoboru on Boy's Day, now called Children's Day, is an old tradition Japan. In ancient times, when a baby was born, the family set up a tall pole in front of a house because it was believed that gods came down along it from the sky to protect the child. In order to make one's house stand out from other houses and get the attention of the gods, strips of different colored cloths were put on a tip of the pole.

During the feudal period warrior families celebrated the birth of boys by decorating miniature sets of armor with hana-shohbu (a kind of iris) and setting up family-crested flags and streamers outside.

In the "Edo" period rich merchants started flying Koinobori with five-colored streamers wishing for good growth and success for their children and this custom became popular among the common people.You can still see them flying on tall poles by rural homes, one carp for each boy in the family. Carp swim up stream to spawn and are known for their determination and strength, characteristics that parents want their sons to have. Now days, as there are more and more crowded conditions, there is not room in many areas for people to fly koinobori, so towns put on large displays of them for the public to enjoy.

There is also a restaurant and souvenir shop to take your money of course. We had a lunch of soba (buckwheat noodles) and tempura. The soba was predictably "so-so", but the tempura was elegantly prepared and delicious. It only costs 300 yen to get on the bridge. There is a demonstration of solar and wind power by Mitsubishi Electric on display - a solar voltaic array and a small wind generator with large digital readouts to show the watts being generated. The solar array was cranking out a steady 1500 watts, even with carp streamers shadowing it at times. The wind turbine was producing 100-450 watts.

We drove down to and walked across the dam and looked up at the bridge and koinobori from below. The dam is not hydro electric, but strictly for water management. It has some impressive gates that weigh about 17 tons each. There are steps from the bridge down to the dam, but going back up 300 feet of steps was not on my agenda. There were beautiful views of the mountains in every direction.

It was a great day out and an interesting blend of natural beauty, traditions, and engineering marvels. Carpe Diem! (sorry - too obvious a pun to leave out).
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Guest Comments from the Moody Minstrel:
I have been to the bridge in Suifu. My wife was doing something up in Mito at the time and, just for the heck of it, I took a "quick" solo jaunt over to Ryujinkyo. (Actually, I've heard that translated as "Celestial Dragon Bridge" before). It was autumn, so there were no carp streamers, but there were some autumn leaves to be seen.

When I went across, I passed what was evidently a small family group as it consisted of a middle-aged couple, a younger adult couple, and a teenage girl that looked like the younger adult woman. They had been conversing very animatedly, but when I passed by they immediately stopped and stared at me.

The middle-aged woman muttered, "What in the world would a gaijin be doing here?" When that got a laugh out of the others, she followed through by saying in a louder voice in my direction, "Hey! This isn't Kyoto! There are no temples here!" That got an even bigger laugh out of them.

Evidently, they hadn't thought I could understand Japanese, because when I then said in that language, "This is very beautiful scenery," the laughing came to an abrupt halt, and they quickly hurried back across the bridge. That left me to enjoy the scenery all by myself until it was time for me to go back and rendezvous with the rest of my family.

I'm such an evil barbarian. - the Moody Minstrel

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