Kara-hashi Bridge of Seta (瀬田の唐橋)

The Kara-hashi Bridge of Seta is the bridge spanning over Yodo River in Seta, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture. 260m total length. The Otsu Notogawa Nagahama Line of Shiga Prefectural Road No. 2 is crossing over Yodo River via this bridge.

While the name of this bridge is written as "勢多の唐橋" in Japanese (pronounced "Karabashi no Seta" and meaning "Chinese-style bridge of Seta"),it is also called "瀬田の長橋" (pronounced "Nagabashi no Seta" and meaning "long bridge of Seta").

It is named for one of the three most excellent/oldest bridges of Japan, ranked together with the Uji-bashi Bridge and the Yamasaki-bashi Bridge. Hiroshige UTAGAWA produced "Ohmi Hakkei" (the eight sceneries of Ohmi) woodcut prints, while "Seta no Sekisho" (the sunset scenery of Seta) is one of those eight sceneries depicting this bridge as a major subject of the scenery near Seta.

In addition, this bridge is selected as one of the best hundred roads and streets of Japan (actually among 104 roads/streets).

History and legend

There is only the Seta River flowing out of the Biwa-ko Lake,
To visit Kyoto from the east region of Japan, visitors had to cross this Seta River or the Biwa-ko Lake. Since the Kara-hashi Bridge of Seta is the only bridge crossing over the Seta River, this bridge was the important point for defending Kyoto, therefore people used to say, "those who command the Kara-hashi Bridge would reign over the whole country of Japan."

It is believed that the first full-scale bridge was built when the relocation of the capital was carried out to Ohminomiya, and the east end of the original bridge was situated near Unjyu-ji Temple with Ryuo-sha, which is about 65m south of today's location.

Ancient Periods

The original bridge was a suspension bridge utilized the large wisteria trees on both banks of the river. During the period of Keiko Emperor (the father of the prince YAMATO Takeru) a karami-bashi, which was built with dugout canoes lined up side by side on the river with wisteria and arrowroot vine twined around them, was constructed and used for crossing the river.

In 201 during the reign of Jingu Empress, Kagosaka Prince and Oshikuma Prince started a revolt against her. It is said that Oshikuma Prince killed himself in Seta, when the troops led by TAKEUCHI no Sukune, who was the retainer of Jinko Empress, (the mother of Ojin Emperor) attacked him (Nihonshoki [the chronicles of Japan, Princes OKINAGA Tarashi, Jinko Empress]).

During the Jinshin War (671), this area became the battlefield of the decisive battle between Kobun Emperor (Otomo Prince) and Tenmu Emperor (Oama Prince). Although the troops of Otomo Prince waylaid the troops of Oama Prince by removing the planks of the bridge, the troops of Oama Prince broke through the defences and overthrew the Otomo Prince. The main figure enshrined in Goryo Shrine is the Otomo Prince ('Nihonshoki' 28th Volume, Tenmu Emperor, Book One, July 672). This is the first article in history describing about the Kara-hashi of Seta.

During the Rebellion of EMI no Oshikatsu (the Rebellion of FUJIWARA no Nakamaro, 764), the troops of the Retired Emperor Koken reached to the Kara-hashi Bridge of Seta via Tahara-do Road (Sekinotsu Remains) ahead of Oshikatsu who tried to plunder Ohmi by going from Uji City. Oshikatsu escaped to Takashima District, but he and his family was soon overthrown from the power ('Shok Nihongi' Jyunnin Emperor, September, 765).

The Heian Period

There was a fire of this bridge on December 4, 869.
(Nihon Sandaijitsuroku, Volume 16)

There was another fire on November 4, 871.
(Nihon Sandaijitsuroku, Volume 29)

This bridge is well known for the legend of FUJIWARA no Hidesato who got rid of a huge centipede harming the people of this region, which is said to be developed after his successful subjugation of the Rebellion of TAIRA no Masakado.

During the Jisho Juei War (Genpei War), there was a battle between MNAMOTO no Yoshinaka and Taira clan in 1183, and another battle between MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune and MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka in 1184, and Kanehira IMAI was the commander defending the Seta-bashi Bridge for Yoshinaka against MINAMOTO no Noriyori, by removing the planks of the bridge. After Yoshinaka was defeated in Uji, Kanehira joined with Yoshinaka and later Kanehira died in the battle at Awazu.
('The Tails of the Heike')

The Kamakura and Muromachi Period

The War of Jokyu: In 1221, the troops of Retired Emperor Go-Toba (the troops led by Shigetada YAMADA with 300 mounted armed monks of Hiei-zan Temple) and the troops of Kamakura Shogunate (the troops led by Tokifusa HOJO, the younger brother of Yoshitoki HOJO) faced each other across Seta River for a battle.

The battles of Kenmu era: There was a battle in 1336 between the troops of Ashikaga clan led by Naoyoshi ASHIKAGA and the troops of Go-Daigo Emperor, facing each other across Seta River.

The Incident at Honno-ji Temple - The battle of Tenozan: It was Nobunaga ODA who relocated the Seta Bridge to the current location. It is said that the magistrate of the bridge construction was the lord of the Seta Castle, Kagetaka YAMAOKA, and he completed the construction only in 90 days. Even when Mitsuhide AKECHI advanced to the Seta Bridge after defeating Nobunaga ODA in the Incident at Honno-ji Temple, Kagetaka did not yield to Mitsuhide and set fire to the Seta Castle and Seta Bridge.

The Edo period and after

The Zeze Domain (Honda family) managed the bridge. The Tokai-do Road went through the bridge in Edo period.

Although the wooden bridge was reconstructed again in concrete in 1979, biboshi (the original ornamental railing tops) accentuating and characterizing this bridge with the inscriptions of the time periods on them by saying "Bunsei" or "Meiji" periods, have been handed over in generations and reused for the new bridge.


In the early Edo period, Sakuden ANRAKUEN noted that the proverb "Isogaba Maware (Make haste slowly)" was derived from a renga (collaborative poetry) included in 'Seisuisho,' "Mononofu no Yabase no fune wa hayakutomo Isogaba Maware Seta no Naga-bashi," which was written by a poet Socho. For going to Kyoto from east orientation, it was considered to be faster to cross the Biwa-ko Lake from the port of Yabae to Otsu by boat, than to go south to Seta and cross the bridge, but this boat service was dangerous because of the sudden gust of wind blowing down from Mt. Hiei. Therefore, it was better to take the "long way around but reliable path" than to take the "easy and quick path," which later became the popular proverb.

Basho MATSUO also left some Haiku such as follows.
"Samidare ni kakurenu monoya Seta no hashi" (everything is hazy in the rain of May, but only the bridge of Seta is not blurred and visible to my eyes even in this rain.)
Hasigeta no Shinobu wa tsuki no nagori kana (The autumn plant Shinobu [Davallia] is growing on the girders of the bridge and illuminated by the moon light. It is as if the last full moon of the autumn expresses the sorrow of parting to the autumn before the winter, as I leave Kyoto to Edo now with my memories of those days I spent in Kyoto.)

Access to the site

The closest JR (Japan Railroad) station is not Seta Station (Shiga Prefecture) but Ishikawa Station. From this Ishikawa Station, transfer to Keihan Ishiyamazaka Line of Keihan Electric Railway Co. Ltd., and get off at the next station, 'Kara-hashi Front Station,' which is the nearest.

[Original Japanese]