Japanese Covered Bridge – The Legacy Of Ancient Japan in Hoi An

Travel Guide to Cau Pagoda in Hoi An, Vietnam

Rachel Tran
Rachel Tran | Published: January 21, 2020

With a history of more than 400 years, nowadays, the Japanese Covered Bridge, aka Cau Pagoda, might be considered as one of the most significant constructions of the Hoi An old town. Being built by the Japanese since the 17th century, until now, the Bridge has been attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world thanks to its unique beauty and special architecture. Coming to Hoi An old town, it will be a waste if you don’t stop by the Japanese Covered Bridge at least once.

    Location: Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Minh An Ward, Hoi An, Quang Nam Province
    Opening Hours: 24 hours every day (might be different on Christmas Eve)
    Entrance Fee: all entry permissions of the monuments, even the Japanese Covered Bridge, etc. included already
    For Vietnamese visitors: 80.000 VND / person
    For International visitors: 150.00 VND / person

I. History Of Japanese Covered Bridge

One of the factors that attract tourists from all over the world to the Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An old town is its long-term, impressive history. To be more specific, the Cau Pagoda (Chùa Cầu) had been built by the Japanese businessmen since the 17th century.  The exact time of the beginning and the end of the construction process, until nowadays, still remain hidden. However, there has been a number of researches shows the relative time phrases of the Japanese Covered Bridge building operation.

History of Japanese covered bridge
Photo: flickr.com

According to a Vietnamese researcher named Vu Duc Tan and his writing for the Vietnam Magazine, as well as another foreign author of The Asian Wall Street Journal magazine, the Japanese Covered Bridge had been finished building in 1593. In the Vietnamese ancient bibliography, the Bridge had first appeared in the documents of 1617. In conclusion, we can be assured that the Japanese Covered Bridge had existed in the port of Hoi An town at least from 1617.

Being built by the Japanese, so of course, the bridge was also named “the Japanese bridge”. Some ancient people believed that the bridge served its position as the magical sword to control the Japanese monster Namazu. This was a hideous and dangerous monster, which was so big that its head stayed in India, its body lied in Vietnam and its tail was in Japan. The “sword” – as in the Bridge, had succeed in stopping it from squirming and causing frightfully earthquakes. 

The ancient people living in Hoi An believed that under the Bridge was the lair of monsters and kappas, so in 1653, the Vietnamese and the Chinese built a temple to control them, connecting it to the Northern corridor of the Bridge. Therefore nowadays, when visiting the Japanese Covered Bridge, guests can explore both the bridge and the temple nearby. The Japanese Covered Bridge had also become a cultural symbol of Vietnam, Japan and China.

So why was the Japanese Covered Bridge built in the first place? During the Nguyen Dynasty, international refugees, Chinese and Japanese to be exact, were welcomed into the borders of Vietnam. They started a peaceful life in the Hoi An old town, exchanging products and trading to earn their living, hence the Japanese Covered Bridge being built. However, in 1633, the Japanese government had issued an order to stop having trade relations with foreign countries, resulting in all the Japanese that were living in Hoi An had to return to their homeland, the last one of them left in 1637. Ever since the Bridge had been under the control and management of the Vietnamese in Hoi An old town. 

Nowadays, along with the temple, the Japanese Covered Bridge has become an important tourism site of Hoi An old town, Vietnam. On February 17, 1990, the Japanese Covered Bridge had been granted the title “National Historic – Cultural Monument”.

II. The Renovation of Japanese Covered Bridge

Rennovation of Japanese covered bridge

Ever since it was built until now, the Japanese Covered Bridge had gone through a total of 7 times being repaired, in 1763, 1815, 1875, 1917, 1962, 1986 and 1996. Sometimes, small adjustments were made on the monument’s roof, floor and pillars as well. Recently, the People’s Committee of Quang Nam province is allowing Hoi An to start renovating the Bridge again.

The first renovation in 1763 was done by the leaders of the Minh Huong Commune, which was the village in Hoi An at that time. 52 years later, in 1815, the people in Minh Huong Commune continued to repair and reinforced the Japanese Covered Bridge. 

In 1875 was the third time the Japanese Covered Bridge was fixed by the people in Minh Huong Commune, only this time, the process was joined by other businessmen who lived close by. 

During the French colonial period, the Vietnamese ancestors proceed to renovate the Bridge again. Especially in 1915, the French Chief of Mission Lesterlin Galtier had used a portion of his treasury for the renovation of the Japanese Covered Bridge. Other funders of the renovation in 1917 were also named on the steles in the monument, which are still available until nowadays.

In 1962, which was about 45 years later, the Japanese Covered Bridge continued to be repaired, this time by the Quang Nam provincial government. Until that time, there had been certain damages and rottings visible in the monument.

The last two renovations in 1986 and 1996 were considered as the two most massive ones. Especially, the restoration in 1986 was carried from August to October of that year, led by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the People’s Committee of Hoi An city. That was when the roof and the floor were fixed into nowadays condition.

III. Why is Japanese Covered Bridge So Special?

Why is Japanese Covered Bridge So Special

1. Japanese Covered Bridge has a multicultural history

The Japanese Covered Bridge, although being built in Hoi An, Vietnam, is the harmonize and the perfect combination between Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese culture. While the Bridge was built by the Japanese, the temple – which was mentioned above – was the work of both Vietnamese and Chinese.

With the mission of controlling the monster Namazu, the Japanese Covered Bridge was believed to had stopped natural disasters in Vietnam, Japan as well as India. Furthermore, the Bridge also improved the lives of the people in these three countries, at least in spirit.

Especially, in 1719, Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu had visited and be charmed by the magnificent beauty of the Japanese Covered Bridge. To praise its attractiveness, Nguyen Phuc Chu had named the Bridge “Lai Vien”, meaning “coming from afar”. He hoped that the Bridge would attract lots of visitors from all over the world. And until now, the Bridge had done nothing but exactly that, in a successful and perfect way.

During the time when the Japanese Covered Bridge had been finished, Hoi An ancient town was a bustling and crowded trading area. Businessman and wanderers from all over the Eastern area, not just the Japanese and Chinese, stopped by to exchange goods, interacting and learning from each other. This was where the diverse culture of different countries were united and conquered. That is a part of the reason why the Japanese Covered Bridge had been bathed in various culture and customs of the East side of the world.

Ever since its existence, the Japanese Covered Bridge has been become a cultural symbol of the Eastern area, creating such an important trademark to the architecture of the Bridge in particular and Hoi An ancient town in general.

2. The two distinguished parts of the Japanese Covered Bridge

Being called the Covered Bridge, however, there are two distinguished parts of this national monument, which are the Bridge and the Temple. 

The Bridge was the part being built first, followed by the temple in approximately 60 years later. That is why the Bridge was called “Chua Cau” (“Chua” means “temple”, “Cau” means “bridge”) in Vietnamese. Once you have reached the monument, it would be a waste if you don’t spend both places a visit.

The Japanese Covered Bridge was built over the Thu Bon river in Hoi An, while the temple was located on the Northside of the bridge. Only when you have visited both relics that you have a complete and meaningful trip to Hoi An, Vietnam.

3. The Japanese Covered Bridge does not worship Buddha

While most temples and pagodas in Vietnam were built to worship Buddha – the main religion in the S-shaped country, the Japanese Covered Bridge and temple were built to worship Bac De Tran Vo. According to local myths, this is the god of happiness, wealth and health of Hoi An. He has the mission of making sure the people here have a peaceful, content and satisfying life.

All in all, Bac De Tran Vo is the symbol to ease your mind. Therefore, the Japanese Covered Bridge, aside from being a significant historical and cultural relic, is also a famous spiritual tourism attraction.

Another interesting fact about the Japanese Covered Bridge is that the image of the monument was printed on the official currency of Vietnam – on the 20.000 note to be exact. This only emphasizes more the importance of the Japanese Covered Bridge in Vietnam.

4. The Japanese Covered Bridge has an impressive architecture

The first thing tourists take notice of the Japanese Covered Bridge will be the complicated and various patterns that were carved on the roof and wooden columns of the monument. The most outstanding pattern is dragon design, in classic Vietnamese style but dotted with certain Japanese trademark. Plus the gentle but still striking colors of the walls, the Japanese Covered Bridge truly deserve to be one of the most striking historical relics of Hoi An ancient town.

Another incredible feature of the Japanese Covered Bridge is the material. Both the Bridge and the temple were designed and built from wood, creating an ancient and simple yet elegant and memorable beauty. Plus, being positioned on the river, so the space inside the monument is really cool and airy.

Being built by the Japanese, so of course, the Japanese Covered Bridge has some significant features of the Japan culture, but somehow the monument still has a few Vietnamese traits as well. Each side of the Bridge has an animal-shaped statue, a monkey and a dog. According to Japanese culture, monkeys and dogs are the godly animals that represent protection and safety. However, there are also researches saying that because the Bridge was built in the year of Monkey and finished in the year of the Dog, those two statues were placed on the monument.

The Japanese Covered Bridge impresses its visitors also by the stunning curved roof, which covers every inch of the bridge. The roof was also decorated with yin and yang patterns, this is one of the trademarks of Vietnamese culture and architecture. 

On each side of the Bridge, there are small corridors and benches for visitors to sit down and rest if needed. The temple and the Bridge were separated by a thin wooden wall.

Everything of the Japanese Covered Bridge – from the material, the design to the patterns and decorations are significant features of Vietnamese, Japanese and Asian culture. Therefore, many consider the Bridge as a harmonizes of Eastern architecture.

Hoi An ancient town has always been a famous and impressive tourism destination of Central Vietnam, but what makes the place become so famous is a wonderful culture as well as the historical relics there, and the Japanese Covered Bridge is one of the most significant ones among them. Throughout 400 years, the Bridge has succeeded in making itself become the heart of Hoi An.

When you get to the ancient town, remember to not skip the Japanese Covered Bridge, because it will be such a waste if you don’t spend this symbol of Hoi An a visit. And by exploring the Bridge, you will have a clearer look of the Eastern architecture as well as the colorful history of Vietnam. With all of those charms combine, the Japanese Covered Bridge promises to bring you such unforgettable and striking impression and memory.

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