Mystery Bridge Nr. 40: A Whipple Truss Bridge In Japan

Photo taken by John Paul Catton, author of the ‘Sword, Mirror, Jewel’ fantasy trilogy’ Used with permission

 

The next mystery bridge takes us over 20,000 kilometers away from home, to the country of Japan.  With over 127 million inhabitants and despite the tragedies that have affected them for years- namely the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which effectively ended World War II,  and the triple disaster at Fukushima three years ago (earthquake, followed by a tsunami that wiped many cities off the map and the worst nuclear disaster since 1986)- Japan maintains an unusually fast-paced but honor-obsessed culture, which makes the country stand out among other industrialized countries in the world. The country is famous for its sushi and rice, and thanks to its decades of developing modern technology, Japan is the third most powerful country in the world with regards to the world economy.

Many people do not really think much about Japanese heritage as the population is always on the move. And it is no wonder why  historic bridges are almost next to never mentioned. Yet John Paul Catton, who is the author of the Sword, Mirror, Jewel Fantasy series and webmaster of Planet 303 (Adventures in a Post-Fictional World), happened to find this jewel, while providing readers with a tour of the Japanese city of Asakusa.  The city is part of the perfecture of neighboring Taito, which is part of the Japanese capital of Tokyo.  As for the bridge itself, it has a history of its own. The truss design is clearly marked: A Whipple pony truss with pinned connections. This design was patented by Squire Whipple in 1841, and set the precedent for the development of the bowstring arch bridge in general, which started populating the American landscape in the late 1860s. The Norman’s Kill Bridge near Albany, New York, built in 1869, is one of the earliest examples of this truss type.

The Whipple truss bridge at Asakusa, according to Catton, used to be located in Fukugawa, which is southeast of Yamaguchi on the extreme southwest end of Japan. It was relocated to this place in Asakusa in recent times, perhaps 10-20 years ago,  given the newness of the abutments, and the roadway that runs underneath the span. While no exact dimensions have been found on this bridge, one can assume that the span is between 20 and 30 meters long. Because welded and riveted connections were introduced in 1910 to replace the pinned connections, one can assume that the bridge was originally constructed in the time period between 1865 and 1880, and whoever designed the span was either a disciple of Squire Whipple himself, or he borrowed the design from him (or his colleagues) to use when building it at Fukugawa. Because Fukugawa is 918 kilometers (570 miles) southwest of Asakusa (in Tokyo), the feat of relocating the span to its current place must have been a Herculean one, because of the exorbitant costs combined with obstacles in transporting it (Think of the mountainous landscape, combined with potential earthquakes, which overshadow the well-knitted infrastructure).  Such a feat is rare to find in the United States, yet attempts are underway to relocate a truss bridge from Pennsylvania to Alabama as part of a major project, supported by Alabama DOT and a private group wanting to save the BB Comer Bridge. If approve, this record distance of transporting a historic bridge from A to B, will surely be broken.

This bridge was first mentioned through bridgehunter.com, though a thorough article about the bridge and the request for information about the bridge’s history has not been written until now. Therefore, the Chronicles needs your help regarding finding the following information:

1. When was this bridge built?

2. Who was the bridge builder? Was he a disciple of Whipple or did he work for a firm in Japan (or elsewhere)?

3. Where exactly was this bridge located in Fukugawa?

4. Because of the fact that the bridge is one of the oldest left in Japan, what was the motive behind relocating the span to Asakusa?

5. When did the relocation take place and how?

Send your information to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. As soon as all the questions have been answered, there will be a follow-up to this article in the Chronicles.

Japan does take pride in its culture, and how (and why) this bridge was relocated remains a mystery, except for the fact that they really care about it, considering it one of the important landmarks of Japanese history. The Chronicles is working together to make sure the bridge’s history and its association with the development of the Japanese infrastructure comes to light. More on this Mystery Bridge will follow.

Fast Fact: Fukugawa is located between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities that were destroyed by two atomic bombs in 1945. President Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped after Germany surrendered to the Allies in May. Hiroshima was destroyed on 6 August, 1945, Nagasaki followed three days later. Japan surrendered on 2 September, 1945, when Emperor Hirohito signed the surrender papers on the USS Missouri, with General Douglas MacArthur overseeing the process. How nuclear radiation affected Fukugawa as a result of the two bombs, remains an unknown factor.

The author of the Chronciles would like to thank John Paul Catton for the use of the photo.

 

 

6 Responses

  1. ArtS

    Jason,

    I think moving the bridge is not as dramatic as you make it seem. The bridge disassembles in conveniently sized, transportable pieces. It is nice to see that the knowhow to do so still exists in Japan.

    I’m glad to see that there was a desire to do so.

    Regards,

    Art S.

  2. Joe Blow

    Japan is not 20,000 kilometers from your home, unless you live somewhere in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. There are less than 127,000,000 people in Japan, not more. Hirohito was not the guy who signed the surrender on the Missouri. I doubt that the mountainous landscape of Japan got in the way of moving this bridge, since it almost certainly traveled most of the distance on a boat. You really need a fact checker.

    1. Look here, BUD, let’s get some facts straight here: I reside in Germany and I go by flight distance only. Since there is the International Date Line, we usually fly east, and therefore I go by flight distance than with the actual distance. Secondly, all sources, from Wikipedia to Britannica have indicated that there are over 127 million people living in Japan. It may have decreased because of the Fukushima disaster of 2011, but the numbers don’t lie. And lastly, speaking from the historian’s perspective and from what we learned in history class, Emperor Hirohito ruled Japan during the war and all the way up to his death in 1988. He was the one who signed the surrender papers on that day. If you beg to differ, then I want to see it live instead of telling a journalist we need a fact checker as if you know more than WE do. This type of disrespect is and will not be tolerated on this blog, as well as any newspaper. And by the way, how do you know it went by boat, JOE BLOW? It could have flown to Tokyo, too.

  3. Eric Delony references the bridge in Japan in a list of Whipple arches as being built in ca. 1870 and he called it the “Chrysanthemum Bridge” however it is actually called Hachiman-Bashi Bridge.

    I did a search for it online and found the following information. Note it is called a “modern bridge” my guess a reference of the bridge’s iron construction versus the traditional wooden bridges the country had likely been building for centuries.:

    The former Danjobashi Bridge was the first iron bridge produced in Japan. It was made in 1878 at the Ministry of Industry’s Akabane Factory to fulfill a request from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. In 1929 it was moved to its current location and renamed to the ‘Hachimanbashi Bridge.’ In 1977 it was designated as a Japanese Important Cultural Property due to its great technical and historical value as a modern bridge. It received the Honor Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1989.
    http://www.gotokyo.org/en/kanko/koto/spot/2715.html?PHPSESSID=7krvt6tpv5edfr464s78tjv6h1

    http://structurae.net/structures/data/index.cfm?id=s0027521

    Squire Whipple did not defend his patent well and I think he let it expire. Most of the bridges were built by people who were not associated with Whipple and did not pay any royalties. Likely no association with Whipple.

    It was not unusual to move bridges long distances. They could easily be dismantled. Some of the more amazing long distance moves:
    http://www.historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=britishcolumbia/niagaracanyon/
    Test assembled in England and shipped to British Columbia in 1884 (~5000 miles)
    150 Mile relocation including across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island (~150 miles)

    http://www.historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=truss/cr510/
    Moved in 1921 from unknown Allegheny River location in Pennsylvania to northern Michigan (~700-800 miles)

    Also should be noted that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, swing bridges were bounced all over the City of Chicago for various purposes… replacement and reuse on lower volume locations, temporary construction bridges, etc.

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