Photo: PIXTA/ nobo_23p

Matsue Ohashi: A bridge with stories to tell

By Laura Payne

The northern and southern parts of Matsue, the capital of Shimane Prefecture are divided by the Ohashi River. Multiple bridges span these waters, but the Ohashi Bridge carries the most history.

First built in 1608, and reconstructed several times since then, it is an essential piece of infrastructure and a good place to enjoy views of Lake Shinji. The most famous things about this bridge, however, are its local legends.

Travel to the Ohashi Bridge’s southern side, and you’ll see two remnants of the tales this structure has to tell.

The Sacrifice of Gensuke

Forever memorialized Photo: Laura Payne

In a small park on the southern side of the bridge, there is a memorial for a man named Gensuke. According to local lore, he was a hitobashira (human sacrifice made to protect structures) that enabled the bridge’s stability.

When the Ohashi Bridge was first built, it is said that floods and the soft riverbed often caused damage. Choosing a hitobashira seemed to be the only way to calm the river’s force, so it was decided that the first man to cross the bridge wearing a particular style of hakama (traditional-style trousers) would be sacrificed. Gensuke was the first, and he was buried alive under the bridge’s central pillar. Supposedly, this strengthened the Ohashi Bridge for three hundred years.

In addition to the memorial, Gensuke’s story is remembered through a local custom. It’s rumored that the reason why Gensuke was the first to cross the bridge was because he left for work in a hurry. His wife offered him a second cup of tea before he went out, but he refused it. Now, some Matsue locals drink two cups of tea at a time because this act could have saved Gensuke. For example, when entertaining guests, hosts may offer two servings of tea for this reason.

The Musical Stone

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Gensuke was the first, and he was buried alive under the bridge’s central pillar.

Pretty harsh. One of the reasons I like old Japanese stories and folklore.

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What an interesting story. I'm travelling to Matsue in a couple of weeks and will certainly check out this bridge. Apparently Matsue castle is another example of 'hitobashira'.

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When the bridge was rebuilt in the early Meiji period it was rumored that the first man with the old hairstyle (topknot) to cross the bridge would be buried alive as a hitobashira, with the result that large numbers of people had their hair cut in the Western style.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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