Japan’s famous Edo period began in 1603 and lasted until 1868. It was a relatively peaceful era after centuries of feudal wars. Eventually, tourism became a major pastime across the country, although commoners were not allowed to travel. As nationwide travel became more popular, many books listed the best places to visit around the country, from hot springs to mountains.
Although those lists were not definite, the Kintai Bridge, the Kazura Bridge of Iya, and the Saruhashi Bridge are often regarded as Japan’s three unique bridges.
Known as “monkey bridge,” Saruhashi Bridge was named after a 7th-century legend. According to the tale, monkeys formed a bridge with their bodies to help a couple cross the gorge. Allegedly a gardener by the name of Shirako constructed the bridge after witnessing this event around 610. While the exact date of construction is unknown, the earliest historical record of the bridge dates to 1479, when it was mentioned in a military record.
What makes Saruhashi so amazing is its design. The bridge was constructed as a hanebashi, meaning the bridge is not supported by piers, but by a series of cantilever beams set in the opposite faces of the cliff.
The hanebashi design was not particularly uncommon during the Edo period, but its scenic beauty made Saruhashi Bridge very popular. Its location to the post station along the Kōshū Kaidō road, where many travelers gathered from across Japan, also increased the bridge’s popularity.
Since its inception, the bridge has undergone several renovations and restorations. The current incarnation of the bridge is a reproduction of the Edo-period version, its base now reinforced by concrete.