This is a story about one of the chilling spots in a ghost-story laden town, and how the custom of drinking two cups of tea at time started in Matsue:
In the 13th year of the Keicho Period (1608), when there was difficulty in constructing the first Matsue Ohashi Bridge, a man named Gensuke happened to cross at the wrong time and was sacrificed as a human pillar. It was thought that if there was a human sacrifice, then the bridge would be stable. It could have been anyone, so they decided to toss over the first man who crossed wearing a certain kind of trousers.
It’s hard to say whether this story is fact or fiction, or whether Gensuke really was the victim’s name, but the story caught on enough that there is a memorial stone for him on the south bank of the Ohashi River, by which a famous cherry tree blooms. Though not the original, one of the middle pillars on the east side of the Matsue Ohashi Bridge is sometimes still called “Gensuke-bashira” (Gensuke Pillar). I can’t say for sure which one it is, though.
It is said that on that morning as he was having tea, his wife asked, “Why don’t you have another cup and take your time before you leave?” To which he replied, “I have to hurry and get to work,” and then left after having finished one cup. If he had stayed for the second cup, perhaps he would not have crossed the bridge at the wrong time and would not have been sacrificed. That story spread, and Matsue’s custom of drinking two cups of tea was born.
Or perhaps he could have been saved by wearing a different pair of trousers, but that hasn’t had quite the same cultural impact.
Even without the interesting story to go along with it, Matsue Ohashi is my favorite of the four bridges connecting the northern city center with the southern city center (with a fifth further east). It is the second one to the east from Lake Shinji, and that route takes you between two charming shopping streets, and the granite railings and lanterns give it a nice atmosphere. It’s also the best spot from which to view the O-bon lanterns floating down the Ohashi River every August.