About Shinkyo Bridge
Shinkyo Bridge (神橋), or “Sacred Bridge” is a river crossing in Nikko City of the Tochigi Prefecture, owned by the Futarasan Jinja Shrine.
The beautiful and elegant arcing shape of the bridge traverses the Daiya-gawa River with black and vermillion lacquer. The colors contrast strikingly against the picturesque landscape.
Considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful bridges, it’s 92 feet (28 meters) long, 24¼ feet (7.4 meters) wide and sits 34¾ feet (10.6 meters) above the river.
The Japanese government and UNESCO have designated Shinkyo Bridge as an important site for the nation’s cultural heritage.
The Sacred Legend
Its notoriety is due to the legend connected with Shinkyo Bridge, which is rather curious and mysterious.
Shodo Shonin was a priest traveling with his disciples in 766 AD when he came upon the edges of the turbulent river. They couldn’t cross and didn’t know what to do.
Shodo Shonin dropped to his knees in prayer. Soon, Jinja-Daisho, a great deity, appeared on the opposite side. He had two snakes intertwined around his arm, one red and the other blue.
He threw them across and they transformed into a rainbow-colored bridge.
On the top of the bridge grew sedge grass, which created safe passage for the priest and his people. After crossing, both the bridge and the deity vanished. Shodo Shonin built a bridge in its place and it’s been here in some form ever since.
History of Nikko
Shodo Shonin then established Futarasan Jinja Shrine, Chuzenji Temple, and Rinnoji Temple. The city of Nikko grew up around these sites, making this meager priest its primary founder.
His role and the legend give this place its other name, Yamasuge-no-Hebi-bashi, or “Snake Bridge of Mountain Sedge.”
The bridge, as it sits today, dates as far back as 1636. But, another bridge sat in its place long before that time.
In 1902 floods washed away the bridge but federal efforts had it rebuilt by 1904 as an exact replica of the 1636 design.
Until 1973, the bridge only had military access by imperial messengers and important leaders. Government policy forbade regular citizens from using it.
After exhaustive renovations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, anyone can now walk over it for a small fee.
Accessing Shinkyo Bridge
It’s always open but the times change depending on the season. From April to October, the bridge opens at 8:30 am and closes by 4 pm. From November until March, the hours are 9:30 am to 3 pm.
Admission for adults is ¥300 ($2.43 USD), ¥200 ($1.62 USD) for teenagers and ¥100 ($0.81 USD) for children.
The best time to see it is in October and early November. However, this is also the area’s peak tourist season.
But the beautiful changing colors of autumn foliage make the bridge stunning during the day. At night, lanterns magically illuminate the bridge.
Because this place is sacred, people believe that it has the power to grant wishes. Therefore, you can also buy a wishing paper plane at the ticket office. You send the paper over the water and make your wish.
Futarasan Jinja Shrine
Shodo Shonin ventured into the mountains after his mythical encounter with the bridge and built the Futarasan Jinja Shrine (日光二荒山神社).
Entirely dedicated to Mount Nantai, the deity of Mount Futarasan, it’s the tallest peak in the area. For centuries, this has been a place of nature worship.
However, it’s also home to another deity, Ujigamisama, a protective deity of the area.
The shrine became a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the houses still utilizing an older style of home architecture, called irimoya. It comes from China that uses hip-and-gable construction.
The shrine is shrouded in lush gardens and a gushing spring against the backdrop of mountains. People come to pray for fertility, luck, and marital bliss.
Another temple by Shodo Shonin is Rinnoji Temple (輪王寺) and it’s arguably the most important. The Sanbutsudo, the temple’s main building, has several large wooden statues lacquered in gold.
One is of Amida Buddha and the other two are manifestations of the Goddess Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy.
The first is Senju-Kannon, or “A Thousand-Armed Kannon” and the other is “horse-headed Kannon,” called Bato-Kannon in Japanese.
Religious beliefs relate that all three statues are representations of the mountain deities enshrined at Futarasan Shrine.
The Treasure House and Shoyoen
On the other side of the Sanbutsudo is the Treasure House, where visitors can see exhibits related to the Tokugawa Shogunate and other Buddhist histories.
Hours and Admission Fees
The temple is open every day beginning at 8 am and it closes to visitors at 5 pm April through October. It closes at 4 pm November through March.
There is a small fee to enter as well and it depends on how much of the grounds you wish to tour.
To go only to the Sanbutsudo, costs ¥400 ($3.24 USD). To see both Sanbutsudo and Taiyuin, the mausoleum of Shogun Iemitsu, costs ¥900 ($7.29 USD). But if you only wish to visit the Shoyoen and Treasure House, it’s ¥300 ($2.43 USD).
Another temple accredited to Shodo Shonin is Chuzenji Temple (中禅寺). It stretches along the east side of Lake Chuzenjiko and is yet another main center of the workshop for the Goddess Kannon.
Here is a 19½ foot (6 meter) statue of her. What makes this special is that its carving is in a tree still rooted.
On the temple’s second floor is an assembly of the five Deva Kings, called Myo-o, important to Buddhist theology and history.
On the ceiling is a large painting of a white dragon, decorated and covered with paintings of over 100 varieties of flowers found in Nikko.