Shinobazu then and now: the Shinobu River and Mihashi bridges

Until the Taisho Period (1912-1925), three bridges over the Shinobu River, which flowed out of Shinobazu Pond, marked the entrance for visitors from Ueno Hirokoji into to the forest of Ueno Park. Visitors to Ueno came to know these bridges as “Mihashi” (三橋/three bridges). Although the only trace of the bridges today can be found in the name of a famous sweets shop on Ueno Hirokoji, for more than 200 years until their destruction in the Meiji Period, these bridges were widely known as the entrance to Ueno Hill.

  1. Shinobu River

The Shinobu River, which flowed eastward out of the southwest side of Shinobazu Pond, was also known as the Aisome River or Yata River closer to its source. The river is said to have originated in the Oyakuen Garden in Sugamo (a site later used as the campus of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) before flowing southward through Nezu valley between the hills of Hongo and Ueno into Shinobazu Pond, then continuing eastward as the Shinobu River across Ueno Hirokoji to the Shamisen Canal and into the Sumida River. It is not certain when the Shinobu River formed, but a waterway is vaguely depicted on a map drawn between 1644 and 1647, and the river is clearly visible flowing eastward from the pond on a map dating from between 1673 and 1684. Excavations of the remnants of the river and the Mihashi bridges have established that the Shinobu River was not a natural river, but an artificial channel created to drain the water of the Aisome River from Shinobazu Pond.

The Shinobu River’s course shifted over time. In maps of Edo from the 1670s until the 1710s, the channel begins at the southeast corner of the pond and heads towards Mihashi, but a map from 1820 shows an embankment constructed along the western and southern edges of the pond, suggesting that in the hundred years before 1820, the embankment was constructed and a moat dug, thereby connecting the Aisome River flowing in from the north and the Shinobu River flowing out from the southeast and creating a path around the pond for water to flow eastward and out into the Sumida River.

According to an official history of Tokyo (Tokyo-shi shiko) and Fumio Inagaki’s Edo no omokage, the embankment was constructed along the pond shore between 1747 and 1752 using dirt dredged from the bottom of the pond, and stretched from Nakamachi on the south side of the pond to midway through Kayamachi. The embankment was known as Shinchi (新地), and was enlivened by some 60 restaurants, teahouses, and entertainment establishments. In 1749 a four-section bridge was completed between Benten Island and Kayamachi and became a landmark known as the “eight bridges” due to its reflection in the water. In this way, Shinchi quickly became a popular destination, but the growth of teahouses offering prostitution caused the area to fall into disrepute, and polluted water released into the pond harmed the fish and lotuses. Five years later in 1752, the government ordered the teahouses to close and removed the eight bridges. A 1771 Edo map (Fig. 1) shows something like an embankment stretching from Nakacho on the south to midway through Kayamachi.


Fig. 1: 1771 map of Edo
図1 明和七年(1771)「明和江戸図」

Another embankment was constructed in 1820, once again using dredged mud to create an “11-13 meter wide causeway stretching from the pond’s outlet near Mihashi past Kayamachi for six or seven hundred meters, with an updated design including a five-meter gap between the embankment and the drainage channel to the south intended to prevent polluted water from entering into the pond.” (Inagaki 2009, chapter 2). Inagaki’s description is consistent with the appearance of the embankment on an 1820 map. The many popular teahouses located on the embankment were removed in the 1830s and 1840s (Taito History 296). For unknown reasons, the embankment cannot be found on the maps from 1842 and 1844 that are included in the Edo Jyoka Hensen Ezushu map collection showing the changes to Edo’s layout, but a different map of Edo (Fig. 2) created between 1830 and 1844 shows the embankment and five bridges.


Fig. 2: 1844 map of Edo
図2 天保年間(1844)「天保江戸図」

The embankment is depicted in both a map of the Shitaya district dating from 1857 and a map of Tokyo from 1869, so it is believed that the embankment was continually maintained after its construction in 1820. A land survey of Ueno Park in 1878 shows the Aisome River splitting before reaching the pond, with one branch flowing into the pond and another branch going around the pond to connect to the Shinobu River. The official history of Taito Ward describes the embankment as “a nice walking path,” and the bridges linking the causeway to Ikenohata Nakamachi and Kayamachi were named Ryumon Bridge (龍門橋), Yukimi Bridge (雪見橋), Tsukimi Bridge (月見橋), Nakanohashi Bridge (中ノ橋), Hanami Bridge (花見橋) and Hasumi Bridge (蓮見橋), from downstream to upstream (Taito Ward History 296). These bridges and the embankment can also be seen in images and pictures showing the area’s red light industry.

From March 1884, Shinobazu Pond was turned into a horse racing track, with the northern end of the pond filled in and the shore reconstructed, resulting in the present shape of the pond. Seven years later in 1890, a precise survey of Tokyo still shows the Shinobu River on the outside of the racetrack, so it appears that the track was set up connecting the embankment and the outer rim of the pond. On November 1, 1884 the first race was held at the pond. The horse races that took place over three days were attended by the Emperor, councilors, ministers, and foreign dignitaries, as well as a large audience of ordinary spectators who drove a brisk business for nearby parlors. Thereafter, the horse races were held every spring and fall, and the race track became one of Ueno’s attractions, with special races held during the third industrial exhibition in 1890. However, business difficulties led to the venue being closed after a final race in fall of 1892.

The Tokyo Industrial Exhibition of 1907 differed from earlier exhibitions that had only been held atop Ueno Hill by utilizing the Shinobazu Pond area as a second venue. The site of the former race track was transformed into a popular attraction home to the Taiwan pavilion, Korea pavilion, and some foreign pavilions, in addition to stalls from various prefectures and a water chute. The Kangetsu Bridge was constructed at this time to the west of Benten Island and was maintained after the exhibition along with many of the buildings, continuing to serve as attractions until they were removed under the urban plan for recovery after the Great Kanto Earthquake. The Shinobu River was relocated underground as land readjustment projects began in the early 1900s and infrastructure including the the Yamanote Line and streetcars were introduced. The last map to show the Shinobu River dates from 1915, so the river likely completely disappeared soon afterward.

2. Mihashi

The origin of the Mihashi bridges is unclear, but the single bridge shown in maps from the 1670s and 1680s had changed into three bridges connected to the newly constructed Shitaya Hirokoji in an image dating from 1697. At the time, Konpon Chudo was under construction at Kanei’ji Temple and would be completed the following year. In addition to the main hall of Konpon Chudo, numerous buildings at Kanei’ji were completed during the Genroku Era (1688-1704), including the Monjuro Gate and the Shimizu-do, and after 70 years of construction the complex finally assumed the magnificence appropriate for the family temple of the Tokugawa clan. The construction of the three bridges was also said to be a part of the infrastructure to bolster the appearance of Kanei’ji as a temple, together with the creation of the Shitaya Hirokoji, which was used as a processional road for the Tokugawa family from Edo Castle.

One theory of the origin of the name Mihashi suggests that it is a homonym of the name of the central bridge, which was also known as Mihashi (御橋/“Exalted bridge”) and was used only by the shogun, daimyo, or imperial envoys, but it is also believed that the name simply reflects the existence of three bridges. One record of Edo (gofunai bikou) describes the bridges as follows: “The three bridges over the Shinobu River in front of the Moto-niomon Gate on Ueno Hirokoji are called Mihashi. The central bridge is reserved for the Shogun and is approximately 10 meters wide, while the two side bridges are each around 3.6 meters wide. All three bridges are around 5.4 meters long and constructed from wood” (Dainihon Chishi Daikei Kankokai hen 1914: 418). This passage also reveals that the width of the three bridges exceeded 18 meters.

3. Shinobu River’s burial and the removal of the three bridges

The three bridges disappeared when the Shinobu River was buried in the Meiji period, but the precise year of their removal is not established. A map of the Shitaya area from 1857 (Fig. 3) shows the shape of the Shinobu River and Mihashi. It is believed that the three wooden bridges were converted to a single stronger bridge sometime between a proposal was made to construct a single bridge to handle the expected traffic of visitors to the third industrial exhibition in 1890 and the completion of Kasuga Boulevard in 1903, before the bridges disappeared completely along with the Shinobu River.


Fig. 3: 1857 map of Shitaya district

図3 安政4年(1857)「東都下谷絵図」

Works Cited
青木学, 川西直樹, 小俣悟, 浦井正明, 稲葉和也『上野広小路(台東区埋蔵文化財発掘調査報告書34)』
東京市編「池端築地」『東京市史稿』遊園篇第2: pp.298-302.
田邊泰「寛永寺建築論」『建築學會論文集』5, pp.5-6.

作成者  | 2016-10-13 (木)
タグ :

Copyright © 2014 東京大学大学院情報学環吉見俊哉研究室 contact at shinobazu-prj [at]