According to Japanese myth, by walking on a crooked bridge one can avoid evil spirits that flow in straight lines. If that is the case, visitors to the University of Illinois’ Japan House gardens should have nothing to fear because the bridge that F&S helped build there is not straight.
Instead the “yatsuhashi” features angles that form a jog in the structure. Yatushasi translates to “eight bridges” because traditionally the bridges were built from eight wooden planks.
The Japan House yatsuhasi has a few more than eight wooden planks, but still contains a jog in the middle as well as other traditional features.
Built to honor Kimiko Gunji, the former director of Japan House, the cedar bridge was funded by donations made when Gunji retired in 2011.
“We decided that having something permanent on the grounds to honor Kimiko would be most fitting,” said Cynthia Voelkl, assistant director of Japan House. “She was really the one who made this permanent facility happen. We wanted it to be something really special, and a bridge was something we always thought would be perfect in these gardens.”
Once the funds were raised, F&S managed the bid process and construction of the structure. Capital Programs project manager Jim Sims was involved with the bidding of the project before it was turned over to Construction Services where it ultimately was managed by Josh Rubin.
Japan House gardener Jim Byers created the design for the bridge and wanted to build something as Japanese as possible. He also hand-carved the bird cutouts on either the side of the bridge.
“Jim didn’t want an arched bridge, which you sometimes see, because that is actually more of a Chinese feature,” Voelkl said. “He wanted it to be strictly Japanese, and the jog in it was important to him.”
When the original construction bid came back over budget, changes had to be made to the design, ultimately pushing back its construction from last summer until July of 2015.
“Trying to match the cost of the design with keeping the bridge as traditional as possible was a long, slow process,” Voelkl said. “Everybody we dealt with at F&S was so respectful of Japan House and its aesthetics. Obviously it’s not a bridge you would build somewhere else on campus. There were a lot of considerations, and everyone we worked with was really thoughtful, and we really appreciate it.”
With the bridge finally complete at a cost of approximately $136,000, the Japan House staff is looking forward to showing it off to the campus and community.
“I think it’s going to become a really loved feature of the arboretum and the campus in general,” Voelkl said. “I foresee lots of wedding pictures and things over there. It’s the first step in the further development of these gardens.”