The Japanese Bridge of Hoi An is its iconic symbol, rather like the Coliseum is for Rome or (need I mention it) the pier is for Uk’s Southend-on-Sea.
Hoi An’s delightful covered bridge was built in the early years of the Edo Shogunate (start of seventeenth century) by Japanese craftsmen who were part of a larger community of Japanese merchants active in Hoi-An.
The Japanese settled in this town in large numbers following a treaty with local Nguyen lords signed around 1600 and it was largely the Japanese who transformed the town into a great trading center. The Nguyen Lords allowed the Japanese to build their lovely houses and transform the town from a humble village of fishermen to an international port.
Unfortunately, a subsequent edict from the Japanese Shogunate forced the merchants to withdraw into their thousand-island kingdom and enforcement of its “sakoku” isolationist foreign policy for over two centuries cut the empire off until US Naval Commodore’s Matthew Perry’s expedition of 1852 began to open up Japan to the west – a process which had its good points in enhancing trade and its bad ones in sexual exploitation, as sublimely set to music by Lucca’s local lad Puccini in his “Madama Butterfly”.
The Japanese bridge doubles up as a temple, with shrines to several deities located inside. At one end is the monkey god and at the other is the dog god since the bridge was started in the year of the monkey and finished in the year of the dog (or was it the other way round?)
Some religious scholars believe that the bridge was built to subdue a dragon monster or “mamazu” so huge that its head was in India and its tail in Japan. Every time the dragon moved its tail an earthquake occurred in Japan. The central part of the dragon was located in Hoi An and so the purpose of the bridge was to pin it down and decrease the likelyhood of further earthquakes.
Perhaps we should try to locate a few more mamazu in this world and try to pin them down, especially in earthquake-ridden Italy…Thank God we didn’t get a third earthquake in January this year in Longoio!
Incidentally, the French colonialists tried to pin the bridge further down by flattening it so they could get their Citroen type sevens easily across it. Recent restoration has happily restored the slight hump the bridge had and, of course, banned it to Citroens and other cars.
I love all kinds of covered bridge. Where I live, in close-at-hand Florence there is, of course, the Ponte Vecchio but there are several other beautiful covered bridges in Italy including the bridge at Pavia, at Bassano del Grappa, and, of course, in Venice.
In the UK there is the famous Pulteney bridge in Bath.
But if one want to really see a bridge that effectively pins down a dragon then there is no better place to go that the one I headed for after reluctantly leaving seductive Hoi An: Danang which has an absolutely fabulous new Dragon bridge across its wide river Han.