Unique bridge fountains you won’t find anywhere else in Japan. 

In the same way everything looks like food when you’re hungry, our desire to travel the world right now has us drawing comparisons between local attractions and the ones we’ve seen overseas.

So when we heard there were merlions in Fukuoka, on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, we immediately figured it would be like taking a trip to Singapore’s famous Merlion Park. Over in Singapore, the merlion, a mythical creature with the body of a fish and the head of a lion, is a national icon that’s been honoured with an impressive 8.6-metre (28.2-foot) high statue at the park, which spouts a huge jet of water from its mouth into Marina Bay.

Image: Wikipedia/Marcin Konsek

Not a lot of people know about a similar sight that exists in Japan, as it’s located a fair way off the beaten track, in a sleepy city called Tagawa. Best known for its history as an old coal mining town, today there’s still a lot to see and do in the area, and the station we arrived at for our merlion adventure houses a hostel, making it a convenient spot for a weekend getaway.

▼ JR Tagawaita Station was stylishly renovated in 2019.

Our destination was Shimbashi Bridge, which stretches across the Hikosan River just a few minutes walk from the station. As soon as we caught sight of the scene that lay before us when we arrived, we blinked our eyes and beamed with delight as this was something we’d never seen in Japan before.

Walking closer to the bridge, we could see that what looked like merlions from a distance were actually komainu, stone guardian dogs, just like the ones often seen at Shinto shrines. These mythical creatures are similar to merlions, given that they both have the head of a lion, but unlike the merlion, komainu have the body of a dog instead of a fish.

Komainu are often called “Lion Dogs” in English.

We’ve seen our fair share of Lion Dogs at shrines around Japan over the years, but never before have we seen them spouting water from their mouths. According to city officials, these statues don’t release water on weekdays, though. It’s only on weekends and public holidays when the Lion Dogs rain down on the river below.

▼ The unusual fountains look even more fantastical when lit up at night.

Known as the Hikosan River Fountain Monument, these bridge-side Lion Dogs were first unveiled in 2016, decades after Singapore’s Merlion made its debut in 1972. While there’s no official relationship between the two fountains, there’s no denying the similarities, and while the city previously appealed to the public for nicknames for the pair, it was left undecided, so for now they’re often referred to as “Talions“, an amalgamation of “Tagawa” and “merlion“.

▼ They’re like the merlions of Tagawa City.

Locals, who’ve grown attached to the unusual monument, also refer to it as the “Koma Lions” or “Komainu Shower“. And just as the komainu that stand guard at shrines always appear in pairs, these two do as well, giving locals a sense that the Lion Dogs are watching over the bridge and the Hikosan River that runs beneath it.

▼ Its dubbed a “mystery spot” as this scene baffles visitors, but the city says they installed the fountain to create a new site to attract tourists.

The Hikosan River is actually an important site for the Fuji Hachimangu Shrine River Crossing Festival, which is held every year on the third Saturday and Sunday of May. Famous for being one of the five major festivals in Fukuoka Prefecture, this springtime festival is a lively event that draws crowds of visitors, who come to watch the colourful mikoshi (portable shrines) that get taken into the river to raise the spirits of the town.

Despite the festival being well-known, the water-spouting guardian dogs are not. The festivities may be taking the spotlight for now, but hopefully soon the Lion Dog bridge fountain will finally get its day in the sun.

▼ Taken up close (in a no-go area) with permission from Tagawa City

Who knows – with a little more publicity, and perhaps some mentions in travel guides, this fountain pair might soon become a must-see site as famous as Singapore’s merlion. For now, though, it remains an off-the-beaten-path mystery spot that makes a nice side-trip to another unusual site in Fukuoka — the Giant Buddhist Pagoda and Kannon.

Site Information
Hikosan River Fountain Monument / 彦山川の噴水モニュメント
Address: Fukuoka-ken, Tagawa-shi, Ita 3501-3

Photos © SoraNews24
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