Last Updated: Sep 17, 2023
Well folks, it’s that time of year again! As the sultry summer finally comes to a close and the temperatures gradually start to drop, the autumn leaves are again about to grace us with their magnificent presence. Beginning in October, the entirety of the Japanese countryside slowly starts to come alive with the vibrant colors of the fall foliage. Honestly, if you haven’t had the chance to experience the fourth quarter of the year in Japan yet, I highly suggest you drop whatever the hell you are doing and book a flight to Japan ASAP.
Now that the pandemic is finally over (at least in as much as border policies are concerned) and inbound tourism is again booming, you can expect popular spots like Higashiyama in Kyoto to be absolutely mobbed. Luckily, I’ve got you covered. Today, I want to recommend Saruhashi (lit “Monkey Bridge”), a beautiful but off the beaten path allure that is absolutely stunning during autumn. Spanning a deep gorge, Saruhashi is an eccentric archway in Yamanashi Prefecture that you likely won’t need to share with too many people thanks to its remote location.
Historically, the 30.9 meter-long bridge dates from the Edo period (1603–1868) where it was an important connector along one of Japan’s main highways, the Koshu Kodo. Today, it is one of the best surviving examples of what was called a hanebashi design. The bridge is supported by four pairs of sturdy cantilever beams set into the opposing cliff faces. Thanks to this ingenious layout, the structure is easily able to span the Katsura River many meters below without the need to be further supported.
In the days of yesteryear, there were actually a lot of other hanebashi bridges in Japan (and specifically in this mountainous part of Yamanashi) but sans Saruhashi, I don’t actually think any of them still remain. Due to the deep gorge below, only an agile monkey could cross the ravine without the aid of something like Saruhashi. Truth be told, the “Monkey Bridge’’ moniker actually comes from an old Japanese folktale. According to a local farmer, many monkeys bridged the chasm by chaining their bodies together as a way of getting an elderly couple across.