Japan can be quite an urban planning nightmare at times. Its serpentine roads that occasionally date back over a thousand years run through densely packed urban areas that underwent especially explosive development during the bubble area.
So, it’s not uncommon to find restaurants one-meter wide and mysterious religious gates whose owners are unknown. And in Kobe, there’s now a problem surrounding a bridge that turns out to be owned by individuals rather than the city.
In September of 2020, a roughly 10-meter bridge spanning a small creek in Kobe was completely barricaded with sandbags, chains, metal tubing, and “DO NOT ENTER” signs. Also posted was a sign made by the bridge’s owner explaining that he did not want to be held responsible for any damage if the bridge fails.
▼ Google Street View shows the bridge before the troubles began.
This was the eighth time such a roadblock was erected and each time the police were called in to mediate. This bridge is the only route connecting about 30 homes to the rest of Kobe, making for an interesting legal dilemma. On one hand, the owner of the bridge can’t infringe on the residents’ right to live, but on the other hand the residents aren’t able to dismantle the owner’s roadblock because it is technically on private property.
As a compromise, the owner had a crude boom gate installed which is intended to allow only a single vehicle to pass through at a time. It seems like he will continue to do this until the residents meet his demands: buy his bridge for 12 million yen or pay a monthly toll of 20,000 yen per car and 5,000 yen per motorbike.
This type of subdivision isn’t uncommon in Japan. Typically the developer will pay for the cost of building a bridge for their properties and then hand it over to the city for free so they can deal with the maintenance. In this case, however, it seems as if the original developer had forgotten to transfer ownership.
Decades passed without incident and everyone just assumed the bridge was in the hands of the city. It wasn’t until April of 2019, when a cracked water main that was attached to the bridge needed repairing, that the city learnt they didn’t own the structure.
By this time the land developer had gone bankrupt and ownership of the tiny stretch of road fell into the hands of an unknown individual. This person then sold the bridge to the current owner for 12 million yen in 2017, and when the city came calling about the broken pipe he presumably thought his investment was finally about to pay off.
However, it would seem that this owner was unaware that bridges are normally given to the city for free and when he was told Kobe refused to buy it from him, he instead tried to pawn it off to the residents who could then give it to the city for free.
▼ The map shows how this bridge is the only way in and out of this community.
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