Old Tokyo bridge may see the light of day with plans to divert overhead motorway

The transport ministry has unveiled a plan to divert a 2.9km stretch of the motorway above the famous bridge underground

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 6:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 9:10pm

Pressure is growing for Tokyo’s metropolitan authorities to right one of the city’s most flagrant architectural wrongs.

A bridge has stood at Nihonbashi since 1609 and is of historic importance because it is the point from which all road distances to the city have been measured ever since. The present bridge is also famous for its graceful lines, stonework and elegant, old-fashioned lamps.

Unfortunately, the entire bridge is overwhelmed by a four-lane motorway that runs directly overhead and was constructed in 1963 as Tokyo prepared to host its first summer Olympic Games.

There have been calls for arguably the worst wrong to be inflicted on Tokyo’s skyline to be corrected for several years – as far back as 2005, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recommended that something be done about the carbuncle – but proposals have always been resisted, primarily on grounds of the massive cost of re-routing some of the busiest roads in the city centre.

Some estimates put the cost at Y500 billion (HK$4.53 billion).

But the plan has the support of local residents, Mitsui Fudosan, one of the biggest landowners in the Nihonbashi district and, most recently, the Yomiuri newspaper, but hopes that the bridge might once again see the light of day have been dashed after it became clear that the construction of alternative routes will take at least a decade. That means that the work cannot be undone by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics again in 2020.

Nevertheless, there is a growing groundswell of support for the bridge to be returned to its former splendour, with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike describing the earlier work as “a bad model of infrastructure built exclusively for the pursuit of convenience, disregarding history and culture.

“I want to leave a Tokyo landscape that we can be proud of even 100 years from now,” she said.

The transport ministry has unveiled a plan to divert a 2.9km stretch of the elevated motorway underground, while the area immediately around the bridge could be turned into a pedestrianised district of cafes and green spaces.

In an editorial on Sunday, the Yomiuri compared the visual appeal of Tokyo with a number of other cities, including Seoul, and called for decisive action.

“The wisdom of the many should be gathered to recover the Nihonbashi landscape as the face of the capital,” it concluded.