It’s possible that you’ll walk on or near Azumabashi if you decide to climb the Skytree (東京スカイツリー) in Asakusa, but you’d probably think it’s just a bridge. Don’t you know Japanese do nothing without reason? I don’t think that many tour guides will tell you this story, which includes Prince Yamato Takeru, so… I’m doing this, because now you know I like to tell stories.
The Azumabashi (吾妻橋) is one of the bridges on the Sumida River. Built in the Edo period, it was soon nicknamed Higashibashi: note that the kanji of Higashibashi can be read Azumabashi. The name Azuma comes from a nearby Shinto shrine.
The area around here takes its name from Ototachibana, wife of the legendary Prince Yamato Takeru (kanji 大和武尊 or katakana ヤマトタケル), son of the king of Izumo, whose adventures are narrated in the Kojiki. His father, to try to calm his violent temper, decided to send Prince Yamato to exterminate the brigands who enraged in Kyushu, as soon as he reached the major age (at the time, sixteen years).
After he went to pay homage to the goddess of the Sun Amaterasu, his ancestor, and after receiving the blessing of the priestess his aunt, who gave him as a gift one of her robes, assuring that it would be useful at some point in his journey, Prince Yamato, his wife and soldiers, left. During the journey, the Prince realized that a real ambush would prove ineffective and decided to be crafty. He asked the help of his wife to wear his aunt’s robe, to style his hair and adorn himself with jewels: the mirror showed him the image of a beautiful maiden. So disguised, Prince Yamato entered the tent of the leaders of the brigands, the brothers Kumaso and Takeru. Kumaso was immediately attracted to what looked like a shy and reserved maiden and, after repeatedly asking to pour him some wine, he took a colossal hangover. At this point Prince Yamato pulled a sword out of his robe and killed him, only to pass to his brother, who was fleeing. The brigand, before dying, asked who that man was, because he thought he and his brother were the strongest men on the island. “I am Yamato and son of the King, who bade me kill such rebels as you!”, replied the Prince. At which the brigand replied: “Permit me to give you a new name. From henceforth you shall be called Yamato Takeru, because you are the bravest man in the land“.
Not to make this article too long and since the story of Yamato Takeru is intertwined with other Japanese legends, I will write another article, but now let’s skip some passages.
You can decide to spend the day in Asakusa and visit Senso-ji, Azumabashi, Skytree and Azuma Shrine. I think it’s a tour de force, but I always see so many tourists doing things like that. Maybe you could book tickets for the Skytree or not get up there, even if it would be a pity!