Creating Roads. Raising Bridges.
The nature of Yabakei sometimes troubles the lives of the people there due to its terrain—towering cliffs, steep
valleys, the flow of flooding rivers. There was a group of men who stood resolutely in this realm of stern gods. They
gave up their fortunes, their lives, and their time to create tunnels, roads, and bridges to help the people of the
Around the middle of the Edo Period, Zenkai Osho came here attracted by the Gohyaku-Rakan. He learned that people coming to visit Rakanji Temple were falling from the bridges hung from the steep cliffs there and losing their lives. He then went around the area recruiting investors and, with the funds he was able to raise, hired stonemasons to begin carving out a tunnel. “Four mon per person, eight mon per horse.” The construction, which was partially funded by these sort of tolls as well, was truly a toll road.
After 30 years of striking the cliff surface with hammer and chisel, the Ao-no-Domon (Carved Tunnel of Ao), whose skylight windows cast shadows on the river surface, was completed. The light shining in through the stone windows, the innumerable chisel marks which stand out on the cliff face—Osho’s hard work saved the people of the area and contributed to Yabakei sightseeing.
During the Meiji Period, Murakami Dencho, who became the Kusuguncho (*1), resolved to open a road connecting the seaside area of Nakatsu with the mountainous area of Kusu in hopes that it would bring about development for Kusu, which was surrounded by mountains. Dencho did the surveying and persuaded the local landowners himself. The construction, plagued by rocky mountains and steep inclines, was a difficult undertaking. However, with the planning of a loop bridge and numerous other such solutions, the road was eventually finished. After clearing through the rugged valleys, the secluded region of Shin-Yabakei appeared. The ravine, which even Rai Sanyo never got to set eyes on, came to be called “Tenka-no-Shouchi” (one of the most beautiful sceneries in all the world).
The Yamakuni River, where water from the surrounding valleys gathers—when heavy rain would fall for a time, the wooden bridges would get washed away, and the river itself would change to rapids so fierce that people would say “If you give your daughter away in marriage to the opposite shore, she won’t be able to experience her parents’ deaths.” The stone bridges built one after the other in the Taisho Period are what saved the people here. Yabakei Bridge, Japan’s only bridge with 8 successive arches, also holds the honor of being the longest of its kind in Japan. Rakanji Bridge, whose arches were made as flat as possible in order to decrease the surface area of the bridge supports which dam up the river, can even pass modern river criteria.
The meandering flow of the rivers sometimes even washes away stone bridges. The stonemason Izou Kai resolved to build a “permanent bridge that would never be washed away by any sort of flood.” He hired divers to excavate underwater bedrock and laid down the foundations for the bridge supports. Izou himself controlled the air pump which determined whether the divers lived or died. Bakei Bridge was born from the do-or-die spirit of this construction work. The bridge has withstood numerous floods and stood against the rapids to pass down Izou’s spirit.
*1: Kusuguncho – The head of the county offices in Kusu-gun. At the time, the county (gun) system was set up as an
administrative system between the prefectural and town and village administrations.