If you ask the average Japanese person, and I did, they would probably not recommend putting “Golden Week” and “road trip” in the same sentence. Golden Week, the first week in May when three holidays fall in one week, is notoriously the most popular time of the year to travel. However, for some crazy reason, we got up at four o’clock in the morning and set out for Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture.
If you ask the average Japanese person, and I did, they would probably also respond, “Iwakuni? Why the heck would you go to Iwakuni?” The answer is two-fold: first, one of our friends from across the Pacific pond was going to be in Japan, for a short time only, in Iwakuni, and we wanted to see him. Second, we discovered Iwakuni is home to a pretty cool looking bridge, with its very own bridge festival on the weekend we planned to go, and we thought hey, what the heck, bridges are cool!
We rolled into Iwakuni around noon. Yamaguchi is about a six hour drive from Yokkaichi, and I figured if we left early enough we could get through Osaka and Kobe before it got really messy, and it would be smooth sailing after that. I was right about the smooth sailing after Kobe part, but by the time we hit the greater Osaka area it was already a gongshow, so it took quite a while to get through. But we made it, and upon reaching Iwakuni we escaped the car at last and headed straight for the bridge.
We didn’t drive all this way for just any bridge. Kintai-kyo, or Kintai Bridge, is one of Japan’s top three bridges. It is made almost entirely of wood, and has a series of five wooden arches. Until it was reconstructed in the 1950s, the bridge stood for hundreds of years, held together without a single metal nail (although it was destroyed and reconstructed many times during those hundreds of years). Seeing the bridge up close and walking across it was a pretty cool experience.
Across the bridge was a pretty expansive park, Kikko Park, as well as several blocks’ worth of flea market stalls. I didn’t take any pictures of the flea market, unfortunately, as it had a real community vibe, and it just didn’t feel right. There was lots to see in the park, though, including a rare breed of albino snakes in a small observation house.
Up the mountain from Kintai Bridge lies Iwakuni Castle. We figured since we were already there we might as well check it out, so we headed up the ropeway to the mountaintop castle. As Japanese castles go, Iwakuni Castle is nothing to get too excited about, but it does afford a pretty spectacular view, and it houses an impressive collection of swords, as well as pictures of other famous bridges around Japan.
After the castle we meandered to our hotel, and passed out for awhile as we waited for our friend to get in touch with us. Road trips are fun, but driving is tiring! I’m really glad we got to see Kintai Bridge though; it’s probably not a place we would have gone out of our way for, but we had a good excuse to get off the regular tourist track. And call me crazy, but I think bridges are really cool. I am seriously considering becoming a bridge enthusiast now, thanks to this!