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Proposal Scrapped for French-Style Bridge in Kyoto

October 5, 1998

The proposed Pont des Arts replica in Kyoto. (Jiji Press)

A recent proposal to construct a replica of bridge, the Paris' famous Pont des Arts, over the Kamo River in the heart of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japanese tradition, was meant to celebrate the Year of France in Japan and the fortieth anniversary of the sister-city relationship between Kyoto and Paris. What seemed at first an ideal way to further link the two cultural cities ran into furious public opposition, however, and the plan to construct the French-style bridge was abandoned in August 1998. This difference of opinion between the local government and Kyoto's citizens seems to herald the beginning of a major debate in Japan on the nature of public art.

A Tale of Two Cities
The design proposed by the Kyoto government was based on the Pont des Arts, which was constructed in 1804. Together with the Eiffel Tower, the bridge is a lasting symbol of Paris' elegant steel-frame architecture of the nineteenth century. Many famous artists, including Pierre Auguste Renoir, used it as material for their landscape paintings. Parisians still feel a special pride and affection toward this symbol of their city. Is it possible to build a worthy replica of this architectural monument, with its unique history, in another city with a completely different culture and history?

The pedestrian bridge proposed in Kyoto would have had the same kind of steel frame as the Pont des Arts, and the structure and design would have been similar. City planners saw the bridge as an ideal way to strengthen ties between the sister cities and to stress Kyoto's status as a city of art and culture. In response to the argument that a European-style bridge in Kyoto would look odd, the designers at one point tried to come up with a mixture of East and West. For example, after conducting a survey among citizens on lighting options, they suggested that Japanese-style lanterns should be incorporated.

But these concessions were not enough to quell bridge opponents, who pressured the administration to cancel construction. Some local citizens expressed concern that Pontocho, the traditional neighborhood at one end of the proposed bridge, would suffer from the presence of a European structure. Many people questioned the concept in general, wondering why Kyoto needed a French-style bridge at all.

Project Still Up In the Air
Attention was focused on the unilateral approach of the Kyoto government in its decision to build the bridge. Commented one art critic, "There was not sufficient discussion about whether the bridge would blend with the surrounding architecture and the scenery of the Kamo River, or whether the design of the bridge could be evaluated as art. It's a pity that the city unilaterally approved the proposal and then had to scrap it because of opposition."

The Kyoto municipal government has not abandoned the idea of building a bridge itself. Some experts believe that this is a good chance to show Kyoto's sense of public art. But there is a strong feeling that Kyoto, the treasure-house of Japanese art, clouded the issue by proposing to borrow from the West. Now the whole of Japan is watching with even more interest than before to see what kind of design the planners will come up with next.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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