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A rare view of the two part Naniwabashi (Naniwa Bridge), built in 1876 (Meiji 9). Naniwabashi was originally built as a single bridge. A new bridge consisting of two separate bridges was built when the island of Nakanoshima, dividing the river Okawa into Tosaborigawa (in front) and Dojimagawa, was extended eastwards.1
During the Edo Period (1603-1868), the area around the bridge was extremely popular among Osakans to enjoy the cool evening breeze. People would go boating here, have parties with geisha in boats or enjoy watching fireworks in summer. A small boat can actually be seen passing under the bridge in this photograph.
The bridge was together with Tenjinbashi and Tenmabashi considered to be one of the Three Large Bridges of Naniwa (the historical name for Osaka). While most bridges in Osaka were built by business people, these three were managed directly by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Such bridges were called Kogibashi (公儀橋). Naniwabashi became a Kogibashi in 1661, at the same time as Tenjinbashi.2
In 1915, a new Naniwabashi was opened. It was located slightly east of the original bridge to connect with Sakaisuji (#11 on vintage map below) so that the new streetcar line on that recently widened avenue could use the bridge.
The torii to Hokoku Jinja, built in 1879, can already be seen in this image, but Nakanoshima Park, which was built in 1891, does not yet exist. This image can therefore be dated to the 1880s.
This detail shows some of the buildings along Dojimagawa.
Yukichi Fukuzawa, whose face is displayed on the largest bill in Japan, the 10,000 yen bill, recounts some of his wild streaks during his youth in his autobiography. In one of such episodes, played out during the 1850s, Naniwa Bridge plays a leading role.
“One summer night after ten o’clock one of the boys suddenly said that he was thirsty. He did not lack company; four or five of us decided to go out to satisfy this general thirst. The gate of the grounds was already closed according to the rule, but we threatened the gatekeeper and made him open it for us. We looked for one of those little eating-stalls with woven rush canopies, put up for summer stands. There we had dishes of devil-fish and cheap wine and started homeward after midnight, bringing along a few trays as usual.
When we came to Naniwa Bridge, we saw a pleasure-boat moored underneath the piers. In it some men were having an obviously jolly time with their attendant geisha playing and singing.
‘Look at them!’ I exclaimed. ‘Here we’ve had our poor spree for a mere hundred and fifty mon—all we could afford. But look at them down there! Because they spend so much, we stay poor!’
And into the boat I threw the trays before I knew it. The singing stopped at the last tray. We did not wait to see if anybody might be hurt, for we disappeared on the run. Curiously, a month afterwards, I learned the sequel of the incident.
One of my friends told me that at a party he met a geisha and heard from her a ‘funny story.’ She had been entertaining her guests-of-the-evening one night in a boat near the Naniwa Bridge; several dark figures suddenly appeared on the bridge and threw some trays at her. One of the trays shot into her shamisen, breaking through both faces of the instrument. ‘Fortunately I wasn’t hurt,’ she concluded, ‘but think what rough people there are in the world!’
Full well I knew who the ‘rough people’ were, but I kept it a secret even from my intimate friend.”3
This rough person would go on to become a widely published author, inspiring teacher, translator for the government, an entrepreneur, a political theorist and the founder of Keio University. He is now seen as one of the founders of modern Japan. Something to ponder the next time you cross Osaka’s Naniwa Bridge.
For a view of the Naniwabashi opened in 1915, see Osaka 1930s • Naniwa Bridge.
1883 (Meiji 16) Map of Osaka: 1. Dojimagawa; 2. Nakanoshima; 3. Tosaborigawa; 4. Higobashi; 5. Nishi-Yokoborigawa; 6. Oebashi; 7. Yodoyabashi; 8. Sendannokibashi (栴檀木橋); 9. Hokoku Jinja (A shinto shrine honoring Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It was built in 1879 and moved to Osaka Castle in 1961); 10. Naniwabashi; 11. Sakaisuji; 12. Higashi-Yokoborigawa.
1 Metadata database of Japanese old photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period, From Yodogawa-bashi to Tenjin-bashi. Retrieved on 2008-06-29
2 大阪の橋の地図。難波橋（なにわばし）。Retrieved on 2008/06/29.
3 Fukuzawa, Yukichi (1899/1972). The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa. Schocken Books: 74.
4 I have not been able to attribute this image yet. I suspect it may be from the Kimbei Kusakabe studio.