It’s been a little over two weeks since I arrived in the city of Niigata. I’m finally (finally!) over jet lag and have been hammering away at my internship during the work week. Luckily, I’ve been able to do quite a bit of exploring on the weekends. It’s almost overwhelming to choose where to go and what to see during my limited time here, so I decided to start with a structure that is not only considered to be an incredibly scenic spot – it has also fondly become a symbol of this city and its people. Weirdly enough, that structure is a seemingly ordinary bridge.
I am referring to Bandai Bridge. Built in 1929, the bridge is made up of continuous concrete with six large lanterns attached to its signature arches. Bandaibashi (“bashi” is the Japanese suffix for bridge) has served as an important piece of the national road system in Japan for more than 70 years. In 2004, the bridge was recognized as an invaluable historic monument by the Council for the Protection of Cultural Properties. This might seem sort of boring to some people but here’s the real kicker. According to the Niigata government website, Bandaibashi “didn’t budge” during the 1969 earthquake that left a devastating toll on the rest of the city. While I might be an outsider to Niigata, I can already tell that this physical stability has also created an intangible sense of unity among the people here.
From my personal observations, Niigata citizens seem to work very difficult and long hours. It’s not uncommon to see a businessman running to catch the late train home or a student passed out on top of her bookbag. Yet, the energy was entirely different when I visited Bandaibashi. It just seemd to be such a carefree and positive environment. During the warmer months, there is a cafe set up right along the Shinano River where you can grab a beer, eat some light snacks and watch the bridge light up. I had the chance to sit down and enjoy this view, and it was a really breathtaking sight. I spoke very briefly with the gentleman sitting next to me and he told me a little bit about the Shinano River, the body of water in which Bandaibashi sits atop. While snacking on edamame and sipping his Sapporro, he pointed out that Shinano is the longest and largest body of water in all of Japan. He told me that this spot in particular was “very close to his heart,” and I could tell from his expression that he really meant it. Those four words alone seemed to sum up my impression of how Niigata citizens feel about Bandaibashi.
A small summer event also happened to be taking place the night that I visited the bridge. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was all about, but there were food vendors lined up all along the river. Friends, families and couples put blankets down on the grass to watch party boats go by and bridge lanterns light up, as children ran around in pure excitement holding balloons with glow sticks attached to the bottom. While I didn’t get to see the full effect of everything in complete darkness (I was by myself and wanted to get home at a safe hour), I loved being a part of the overall atmosphere. The bridge really seemed to bring together the community, despite any sort of stress that might have occurred during the previous work week. To me, my experience at Bandaibashi was the perfect representation of local pride here in Niigata. I can’t wait to experience more of it in the future!