2010年4月10日土曜日

Nagasaki Megane-bashi Bridge (Spectacles Bridge)

In Nagasaki city, we have an old stone arch bridge called Megane-bashi Bridge (Spectacles Bridge). The name came from its reflection on water, forming a shape similar to a pair of spectacles. In order to avoid cofusion with other bridges of the same name, especially that in Isahaya city, north-east of Nagasaki city, we usually call it Nagasaki Megane-bashi Bridge.

Documents say that it was first built in 1634 by a Chinese Zen master Mokusu Nyojo (Mozi Ruding) who came to Nagasaki in 1632 and became the second abbot of Kofuku-ji temple. Although damaged once by a flood in 1644 and restored in 1645 by a certain Hirado Koumu, it remains the first stone arch bridge ever built in Japan (It is true that the Tennyo-bashi Bridge in Okinawa was built in 1502, but Okinawa had been the independent Kingdom, Ryukyu, until it was formerly annexed to Japan as Okinawa prefecture in 1879). Influencing stone bridge construction in almost all other parts of Japan, Megane-bashi Bridge was designated as the National Important Cultural Property in 1960.

I once had opportunity to study about the bridge and found a confusion regarding its cultural and scientific origin. Many books, articles and dictionaries assert that the bridge was constructed using Chinese techniques, but some exoteric readings say that it was constructed using those techniques which were transmitted to Nagasaki by the hands of the Portuguese. The latter opinion originated from Yuzo Yamaguchi, Kyushu no ishibashi wo tazunete (Visiting the stone bridges in Kyushu), 3 vols, Isahaya, Showado, 1975-1976. This opinion once spread quickly and widely, not only because Yamaguchi got a prize for his work but of its freshness. Soon after, however, Ohta Seiroku rebutted Yamaguchi's opinion in his book, Megane-bashi/Seiyo kenchiku: Kyushu no katachi (Spectacles bridges and Western architectures: Forms in Kyushu), Fukuoka, Nishinihon shinbunsha, 1979, and I found Ohta's criticism is fairly justifiable and persuasive. Also in the same book, Ohta pointed out that the construction techniques used in Isahaya Megane-bashi Bridge show strong similarity to those seen in the Chinese architecture book in the Song dynasty, Eizo-hoshiki (Yingzao fangshi), though the case of Nagasaki Megane-bashi Bridge is yet to be scrutinized.

In sum, lacking a decisive proof at this stage, we seem to have no choice but to assume that our Megane-bashi Bridge was constructed using Chinese techniques transmitted from Mokusu Nyojo or the brains behind him.

*This short essay is a slightly changed version of what I once posted on the weblog "nangasaqui museum", 20-9-2005.

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