My in laws are currently in town for a few weeks and this past Sunday, we took them out to what has become one of my favorite spots in Kumamoto Prefecture – the Tsujunkyo (Tsujun Bridge).
Tsujunkyo is on a lot of tourism posters and billboards around Kumamoto and yet no one outside of the prefecture seems to have heard of it. It definitely hasn’t made it into the pages of Lonely Planet or Rough Guide yet. But if push came to shove and you asked me to name a site in Kumamoto that was a must-see (after our castle of course), I would have to go with Tsujunkyo.
Tsujunkyo is more than a bridge. It’s part of an aqueduct system that was put in place in the 1850s to bring water to the hilly region. The surrounding Shiraito Plateau used to experience terrible drought conditions until a local official came up with a plan to funnel water from the Sasahara River six kilometers away to farmer’s fields and rice paddies. Even today, the aqueduct still brings much-needed water to about 100 hectares in the Shiraito Plain.
On weekends and holidays at noon, the bridge spews forth water from its two sides in a 25 minute long demonstration. The discharged water does nothing to benefit the fields themselves but rather serves to clean out the pipes from sludge and rocks. It’s like watching an incredibly powerful faucet that’s suddenly turned on and then allowed to trickle down.
While the bridge itself is highly impressive, it’s the surrounding rice paddies that really complement the scene. In winter, you’ll often find snow lying in the fields while in the harvest season, you’ll see gleaming golden stalks and farmers out actually cutting and drying the rice. This past weekend, we managed to time our visit to coincide with the cluster Amaryllis blooming season. These red flowers, also known as spider lilies, grow on the edges of the individual rice paddies and a local friend told me that their arrival indicates the approach of the harvest season. Whatever the case, the contrast of red and green is a beautiful sight.
I’m unsure if buses run to the town of Yamato (the bridge lies just on the edge of town) but Tsujunkyo is best reached by car so you have the freedom to explore the surrounding area and stop for photo ops … you’ll want to do so frequently!