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Why is Suidōbashi called Suidōbashi?

In Japanese History on April 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm

水道橋
Suidōbashi (Water Supply Bridge/Aqueduct Bridge)

What does Suidobashi Mean?

Suidobashi Bridge as it looks today.

If you ever come to Japan, you might want to see a baseball game. If you want to see a baseball game, you’ll probably want to see Japan’s best team. If you want to see Japan’s best team, you’ll have to come to Suidōbashi Station because that’s the train station next to Tōkyō Dome, the home of the Tōkyō Giants.

Actually, you can also come to Kōrakuen Station because it’s also right next to Tōkyō Dome, which is how I come.

What does Suidobashi mean?

Tokyo Dome – home of the Tokyo Giants

But anyways…

When you come out of Suidōbashi Station, you’ll walk across a bridge going over the Kanda River. That’s the Suidōbashi.

The name is made of 3 characters; sui water 道 dō way/path and 橋 hashi bridge.

Suidobashi in the Edo Period

Suidobashi in the Edo Period

There were 6 main water supplies for the city of Edo, ie;  the 江戸の六上水 Edo no Roku Jōsui (6 Main Water Supplies of Edo).*  These waterways were (depending on location) over ground aqueducts, underground pipes and tiny open rivers at various points and they brought running water to Edo Castle, to the daimyō mansions and to the parks of Edo. While the main rivers were used for transporting goods (and possibly taking a dump while you road a boat to some place), the jōsui were meant for bath and drinking water (and theoretically dump-free).

Part of the old Kanda Water Supply. Most of the waterways were above ground... which means people probably pissed in them in the lot.

Part of the old Kanda Water Supply. Most of the waterways were above ground which means people probably pissed in them in the lot… they probably dumped all up in these too.

A nice view of the aqueduct passing over the river. On the right side you can see the pump station (?) pulling the water up to the aqueduct. On the left side you can see a naked dude ready to jump in the water. Edo people have no shame.

A nice view of the aqueduct passing over the river. On the right side you can see the station for monitoring the aqueduct (and apparently for diverting water to Korakuen). On the left side you can see a naked dude ready to jump in the water. Edo people have no shame.

Near Suidōbashi, one diverted waterway actually crossed back over the Kanda Jōsui and passed over the river via aqueduct as it headed to 小石川後楽園 Koishikawa-Kōrakuen Kōrakuen, a garden held by 水戸藩 Mito-han Mito Domain – which you can still visit today. In paintings (and later in photos) you can see the aqueduct and a bridge.

A great picture from the Edo Period or early Meiji showing Suidobashi and (in the background) the Aqueduct.  In the foreground you can see sweaty naked men polluting the water supply in a way that only people in 3rd world countries could appreciate.

A great picture from the Edo Period or early Meiji showing Suidobashi and (in the background) the Aqueduct. In the foreground you can see sweaty naked men polluting the water supply in a way that only people in 3rd world countries could appreciate.

In the Edo Period there were, of course, bridges crossing the Kanda River many places. I’m going to be honest and say I’m not clear on this next point. But I think in the early Meiji Period both the Tokugawa aqueduct and a new bridge existed. Then the aqueduct was torn down to be replaced by modern sewage technology. It’s my understanding that the name Suidōbashi (water carrying bridge) was transferred from the aqueduct to the bridge.

Another view of the waterworks and the aqueduct.

Another view of the waterworks and the aqueduct.

A model of the water bridge and the water river... or something...

A model of the water bridge and the water river… or something…

Well, it’s obvious I don’t know much about waterworks in the Edo Period.

But this looks super fucking cool.

Apparently, there is a museum called 東京都水道歴史館 Tōkyō-to Suidō Rekishikan The Tōkyō Waterworks Historical Museum in Ochanomizu which documents the history of water in Edo and Tōkyō. I may have to go check this place out. One of their prize possessions is a portion of a wooden water pipe that brought water into (or out of) a daimyō masion. This archaeological evidence confirms some form of underwater running water in the residences of the Edo Period elite. Obviously, I need to go there and study up on water technology in Edo.

An Edo Period water pipe that carried water from an aqueduct to a well.

An Edo Period water pipe that carried water from an aqueduct to a well.

This is just pointless trivia, but here are the names of the 6 water supplies. Memorize them and impress (read: bore to tears) your Japanese friends:

Kanda Jōsui
Tamagawa Jōsui
Honjo Jōsui
Aoyama Jōsui
Mita Jōsui
Senkawa Jōsui

At some point, we’re going to talk about the 5 Major Highways from Edo, the 五街道 Go-kaidō. There will be a test next week.

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*
上水 jōsui – while the translation is “water supply,” the nuance is “bringing water.”  Compare with 上京 Jōkyō “coming to the capital” ie; Tokyo/Edo.

  1. I just spent an hour reading some of the other place names. This is fascinating. Thanks for including all the pictures too!

    Not usually interested in water supplies and sewers, but I have to say the wooden pipe is pretty effing cool.

  2. Thank you for a very interesting and informative blog post!

    I am a Norwegian architecture student currently working on a school project for a site in Japan. In connection with this, I am researching aqueducts, canals etc. to find out if my projects has any precedents.

    In doing this, I stumbled across this blog post, and was wondering: Do you have any more information on this structure, the construction, history etc? Did you ever go to the Waterworks Museum? Also, are there any similar structures in Japan, ie. large wooden aqueducts or elevated canals?

    PS. Sent a message to your facebook page asking the same.

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