The five arches of Kintaikyo across the Nishiki River.
Kintaikyo in Iwakuni, a lovely wooden bridge with not one, not two, but five elegant arches that straddle the Nishiki River, is said to be one of Japan's most beautiful bridges. Built out of timber, the Kintai Bridge was first constructed in 1673 by Kikkawa Hiroie, the first feudal lord of Iwakuni. The unusual number of arches is a design meant to make the bridge more durable. Despite this, the bridge still had to be rebuilt several times due to flood and erosion damage — the current version is the fourth iteration and completed in 1989.
Walking across Kintaikyo
To ensure the bridge lasts for generations to come, local artisans and carpenters have been trained in the traditional methods of bridge-building, and a special forest grows wood solely for the maintenance and future building requirements of the Kintaikyo. A small fee is charged to visitors crossing the bridge, and all the proceeds go towards its maintenance.
Kintaikyo is particularly picturesque during spring. It's also popular as a hanami (a Japanese tradition of watching and appreciating the beauty of blooms) spot as cherry blossom trees line the nearby riverbank during springtime. On summer nights — from June to early September — look out for Ukai or Cormorant fishing, a traditional method where fishermen use trained cormorant birds to catch Ayu, a small trout that can be found in the Nishiki River.
View of Iwakuni and the Nishiki River from Iwakuni Castle. You can see the distinctive arches of the Kintaikyo towards the right of the photo.
Crossing the Kintaikyo leads to Kikko Park, where the Iwakuni Art Museum is situated. Inside the museum, you can learn about Samurai history which was a prominent practice in Iwakuni during the Edo period. You can also visit the Iwakuni Shirohebi Museum, a small museum that showcases Iwakuni White Snakes — these harmless albino snakes with white scales and red eyes have been designated as a national treasure and are believed to be portents of good luck as well as the symbol of Benten, a Lucky Goddess of Music and Art.
The ropeway takes about 3 minutes to ascend to the top of Mount Shiroyama. Iwakuni castle is 5 minutes walk away from the ropeway station. Photo: ©JNTO
Kikko Park is located at the foot of Mount Shiroyama and where you can take the ropeway up the slopes to Iwakuni Castle and enjoy a bird’s eye view of Iwakuni and its surroundings. The castle today is a museum that depicts the history of the castle and Iwakuni area. It also has more information about famous bridges around Japan.
Iwakuni Castle is considered one of the top 100 castles in Japan.
Before you leave Iwakuni, make sure to try the local speciality called Iwakuni Zushi. Also known as Tonosama sushi, this sushi looks unlike the typical gunkan or maki style sushi. It consists of many layers of alternating rice and toppings pressed together into a giant cube that is further diced into bite-sized squares when served. Enjoy this dish at Hirasei, a tiny traditional restaurant with over 160 years of history that offers delicious Iwakuni Zushi with views of the bridge.