Passengers on a trial tour of a sightseeing boat on the Katsuragawa river in Otsuki, Japan, take pictures of Saruhashi above them from the same angle in which artist Utagawa Hiroshige depicted it in his woodblock print.

Tokyo - Beginning in April, a sightseeing boat on the Katsuragawa river in Japan will allow passengers to view the Saruhashi bridge from the same angle that ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) used to depict it in his work.

Located in Otsuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saruhashi literally means “monkey bridge” in Japanese. It is often cited as one of “Japan's three strange bridges,” and has been designated as a national scenic beauty. Instead of columns supporting it underneath, the bridge has square logs called “hanegi” stacked on top of each other from both sides of a valley. A person who moved to Japan from Baekje, a kingdom on the Korean Peninsula, in the Asuka Period (592-710) is said to have devised the structure after watching a group of monkeys crossing a valley hand in hand.

According to officials of the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum, Hiroshige travelled to Kofu in 1842 and was impressed with the scenery around Saruhashi. He recorded that the water in the Katsuragawa river was clean and beautiful, and that the beauty of the scenery changed as he walked and was beyond description.

Hiroshige is said to have painted the picture of Saruhashi titled “Koyo Saruhashi no Zu” (“monkey bridge in Kai province”) after he returned to Edo (now Tokyo).

“Many of Hiroshige's works are long horizontally,” said Masafumi Sugimoto, 59, head of the social education section at Otsuki city's board of education. “But 'Koyo Saruhashi no Zu' is long vertically. I think Hiroshige was very impressed with Saruhashi and wanted to emphasise its height.”

The present bridge was rebuilt in 1984 and is 30.9 meters long and 3.3 meters wide. About 60 000 tourists visit every year, but there is no place where people can look up at the bridge from the angle in “Koyo Saruhashi no Zu.”

The plan to operate a sightseeing boat on the river was proposed by Ryohei Suzuki, 36, a member of Chiiki-Okoshi Kyouryokutai, a group trying to vitalise the local region under the jurisdiction of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

With the support of the Otsuki city government, Suzuki has been operating a tour on a rafting boat on an experimental basis in cooperation with local residents.

Akiyoshi Shimizu, 61, chair of Saruhashi Hosho Kai, a civic group to preserve the scenery of Saruhashi, said: “We're looking forward to viewing the scenery, which was loved by many artists and writers in the past, and depicted in coloured woodblock prints. We hope as many people as possible will see it.”

The Japan News/Yomiuri