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The Usui Pass and the Meganebashi

Written by Sei Mou. Published on July 7, 2012.

The Usui Pass No.3 Bridge – generally known as Meganebashi (めがね橋) – is dazzling beautiful. With the nice photo below I do not think I need to explain too much in words. It is currently the biggest brick bridge in Japan, and not surprisingly they are trying to get it listed in the world heritage list (I am not sure whether Japan has the most world heritages listed but I am sure it is the most diligent country in applying :P).

Power Substation Haikyo

Power Substation Haikyo.

As the world heritage candidate, what interesting history does this bridge have? Well well well, I was quite thrilled when I started digging into it, because it was built by 2 important figures in Japanese bridge history, Charles Assheton Whately Pownall (a British bloke hired by Japanese railway in the 1880s as the chief engineer) and Seiichi Furukawa (古川晴一), who also designed the Amarube.

Superb photo by R. Maruki.

Approaching the bridge from the road gives you the most impressive view. The weather is good, and the abandoned bridge looks the right object for our cameras. But why is it abandoned and how old is it?

Arch Bridge

Arch Bridge.

At the year of 1891, the railway between Gunma Prefecture and Niigata Prefecture was built, and the only unfinished part was Usui pass. As we know Japanese are very serious about the set schedule, the bridge has to be built in light speed. And in 1893 it was finished. And if you look at the bridge now; a gigantic pile of more than 2,000,000 bricks put together in a rush… you probably would not want to ride the SL trains that was running on it.

Stairs

Hiking uphill.

We know our Japanese fellows, besides being serious about deadlines, they are also serious about qualities. Thus 1 year after the bridge’s opening, 1894, the bridge was criticized for not being strong enough. A great deal of strengthen work had to be done at the foot of the bridge to prevent it from collapsing. The bridge was used until 1963 when the electronic trains replaced the good old SL Usui.

Walking on the Usui Pass

Usui Pass Tunnel.

I have always liked the Japanese bridges, and we have so many of them! There are these unusual brick ones, the common wooden bridges found in temples and the modern and impressive suspension bridges (driving on them non-stop in Shigoku was great fun!).

The U Road

The U Road.

But my favorite remained with the unusual; those red iron bridges hidden in the deep mountain. We usually drive pass them on the way to abandoned places. The contrast of the red and the green surrounding created a perfect balance, peaceful and romantic. In my vision, some girl from the countryside is likely to appear on the bridge on an old fashioned bike…

Arch Bridge

Arch Bridge.

Amazingly, we found a red iron bridge right next to the Usui pass as well! It was not my favorite hanging-between-big-mountains type, but the quiet lake gave it a unique touch. We took our time and played with 2 different lenses (the Nikon D800 with a Mamiya 35mm, and then with the Nikon 24-70 at 35mm). The results are below. Which one is your favorite?

The Gunma Red Bridge

The Gunma Red Bridge.

Gunma Red Bridge

The Gunma Red Bridge.

Another thing you will find in the countryside is the lonely but lovely bus stops. Like those where you can meet a totoro, and where you need to wait very patiently for the bus that rarely comes.

Totoro Bus Stop.

Totoro Bus Stop.

After all these nice and quiet places, we need to stir you a little bit! We will put a random haikyo, that is casually abandoned in the middle of this beautiful world. What do you think? Does the haikyo beat the bridge in the end?

Abandoned Haikyo Gunma

A Desolated Haikyo.

 

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