It’s too tall, too long, and too shaky! A remote suspension bridge funded by the villagers themselves, and an observation deck with an amazing view where you can get a sense of the area.

This bridge doesn’t just sway; it swings in long swoops left and right. If you’re not paying attention, you could lose your balance. You’ll probably want to look at your feet as you cross it, but if you do that, you’ll have to look at the huge spaces between the boards, down towards the river rushing far below. And then you might want to faint. So keep looking straight ahead of you. The goal is right there…

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This is the Tanize Suspension Bridge that connects Tanize and Uenoji. It’s 297 meters long and 54 meters high, making it the longest regular suspension bridge in Japan. It’s also Totsukawa’s number one sightseeing spot, visited by 160,000 people a year.

Above the entrance to the bridge is a sign that says, “For safety reasons, no more than 20 people may cross the bridge at any one time.” But it’s almost impossible to count how many people are on a 297-meter long bridge. Ultimately, it’s up to you whether to cross or not. Once you’ve prepared yourself, go ahead and take the first step.

People who are so stiff with fear they totter across the bridge like penguins; people who cling to the wires looking desperate, bent almost double as if that makes it safer. People casually strolling across with their hands in their pockets, and people who somehow stay as Zen as a monk...You’ll see all kinds of people crossing the bridge, but there’s one thing they all have in common: when they get to the end of the bridge, they all have a huge smile on their faces.

Every year on August 8th, which is “Bridge Day”, they hold a famous event called the “Yuredaiko”, or “shaking drums”. The local taiko drumming clubs play several taiko drums on the bridge together in the same rhythm. The wires of the bridge resonate with the beating of the drums, making the bridge shake more than usual. “If I think about what could happen, I’ll get scared, so I just try not to think at all,” said one of the club members, laughing nervously.

Watching the thrilling performance on top of a swaying bridge and listening to the bold sound of the drums echo in the ravine is a major attraction, and up to 1,000 spectators come to see it each year.

But why is there such a big suspension bridge here in the Tanize area? We were curious about the answer, so we asked a representative of the Tanize municipality, Tetsuo Sakaguchi.

“It used to swing a lot more,” was the first thing he told us.

Mr. Sakaguchi, with his long, white beard, said that this bridge is actually an older bridge that was repaired in 1972. The original bridge, which he said he used to play on as a child, was built in 1954.

“There used to be a town in the river bed under the bridge, but in 1898 there was a major flood and all of the buildings were washed away. After that people used to place logs across the river to cross to the other side, but when it rained the water would wash them away and they would have to replace them every time. Since that took a lot of time and labor, they decided to build a bridge.”

Ordinarily, in order to build a footbridge like this for everyday use, you have to negotiate with the government to get funding, but the people of Tanize were different. In a time when the starting salary for a teacher was just 7,800 yen, each household contributed about 200,000 yen, and even cut down trees and sold the wood to collect the 8 million yen required to build the bridge.

Today we have no idea why they couldn’t ask the government for funding, but we can guess. Up until the Meiji Period, Totsukawa Village had been exempt from paying taxes, which meant that they were likely unable to receive government support. This village built itself from the ground up, thanks to its independence from the government. In fact, there are two legends about Totsukawa’s tax exemption.

“They say Totsukawa has a connection to the emperor and the imperial family, and is protected by them,” said the Town Hall’s Kenichi Baba. “They also say that this village was so far away that tax collectors had a hard time getting here.”

Whatever the reason, the village people came together to build this bridge. “The people of Tanize are a tight-knit community,” said Mr. Sakaguchi. That solidarity might be their crowning achievement.

This bridge changed the lives of the Tanize community. Children cross the bridge to go to school on the other side, and the bridge became a place to hang out. Adults use it for shopping and commuting to work. Sometimes they even lay boards on both ends and drive farming equipment across.

But the original bridge was much simpler and swayed a lot more.

“When it was really windy or it snowed a lot, they would close the schools because the bridge was unsafe. One time high winds flipped it completely over. Apparently somebody was on it at the time and held on to the wires until they were saved somehow. (laughs)”

Although the bridge was at first only used by the people of the villages, it gradually gained the attention of tourists. Such a long, high, and scary suspension bridge was pretty rare, so sightseers started coming to see it. That’s why in 1972, the village of Totsukawa collected money and repaired the bridge, making it into the one you see today.

Since then, innumerable people have crossed this bridge. Though at first the people of Tanise were confused about what to do with the tourists, they gradually started to welcome them, and in 2013 they created the “Yukkuri Sanpo Michi”, or the “relaxed walking trail”, which extends from Tanise Village to Moriyama Shrine. After climbing a few stairs to the shrine, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view overlooking the suspension bridge. This trail is also the result of the Tanise community’s unity.

“When we were kids, the scenery was spectacular from this viewpoint, but cedar and cypress trees grew and blocked the view. The town decided that it would be nice for the tourists to be able to see the same scenery we grew up seeing, so volunteers cut down the trees and designated this a viewing point.”

The community also planted flowers along the path and installed water wheels on the river. Surprisingly, the people of the villages also paid for those additions themselves.

“Part of the sales from the locally-made pickled mustard greens, Tostukawa yūbeshi (preserved yuzu dishes), and wild mountain mushrooms goes toward maintaining the community.”

Like many rural villages in Japan, Totsukawa is facing difficulties thanks to the aging and declining population, but in recent years five families have moved to Tanise, and the number of children in the villages has increased. Currently there are eight children under the age of three. Perhaps one draw is the sense of unity among the villagers, and the community’s warm welcoming of tourists might also be appealing.

In any case, now that you know the history behind the community and all it’s been through, you might feel a little more than fear when you try to cross its famous suspension bridge.

By the way, though this might be the most iconic suspension bridge in the Tostukawa area, this is actually only one of 50. If you are a brave soul who wants to cross more suspension bridges, we have two more to recommend. However, according to our knowledgeable Tomodachi Guides, the Tanize Suspension Bridge is barely a beginner bridge compared to the others. Are you prepared to face your fear atop these bridges?

You might run into him if you take a leisurely stroll along Tanise’s Relaxed Walking Trail.

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