In this historic post-card perfect city of Hoi An is an interesting piece of ancient history. No one would think that the Japanese used to occupy this sleepy riverside town in central Vietnam, but the ancient Japanese Bridge is clear proof that they did. The real name of this mystical Japanese covered bridge is Lai Vien Kieu or Chua Cau, which means “Pagoda in Japan”.
This amazing structure was built around 1593 by the Japanese trading community when this ancient city was shared by the Japanese and Chinese. The bridge linked these two people. About 40 years after the construction of the bridge, the Japanese returned to Japan as ordered by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Since then, the bridge has been renovated several times in the past, including the last one in 1986, but fortunately it has clearly maintained its 16th-century look until today.
Situated on the west end of Tran Phu Street inside the Old Town, the ancient bridge is overly adorned and solidly built almost out of proportion compared to the tiny stream beneath it. People barely notice the tiny trickles of water running underneath. Standing as guards at the ends of the bridge is a dog at one end and a pair of monkeys at the other end. These are sacred animals according to ancient Japanese beliefs. There is also an altar for each of these animals, in which tourists can drop donations. The north end of the bridge is attached to a Buddhist pagoda with interesting art galleries; the other end has a low clearing and so the designs on the roof are visible to visiting tourists. There are little porcelains etched within the ends of the tiles that make up the roof.
To visit and pass through the bridge, tourists may simply buy tickets into the Old Town. Tickets are sold everywhere in Hoi An, but most commonly in two ticket offices on Hai Ba Trung Street and Hoang Dieu Street. The ticket is very affordable at S4.50 or 93,000 dong per person. It is good for entry into five of the 18 tourist attractions within the city based on the tourist’s choosing. Almost certainly, a tourist will choose to see the famous Japanese Bridge. The ticket, however, is good for only one pass through the bridge, but many tourists walk back and forth whenever the ticket-checker isn’t looking. The beauty of the bridge is worth that risk of being caught.
Other attractions inside Old Town are the Hoi An Handicraft Workshop, Quong Cong Temple, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (for its art galleries and serene tranquility), Hoi An Traditional Theater (for its live folk music and dance performances), Museum of Trade Ceramics, Museum of Sa Huynh Culture and the 200-year old Tan Ky House, along with a host of other century-old houses. In 1999, Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, the historic city of Hoi An is symbolized by the Japanese Bridge. None of the many other interesting artifacts and relics can better represent the beauty, mysticism and charm of this ancient city.