Japanese Red Bridge

Oamaru Public Gardens, 39 Chelmer Street, Oamaru

  • Japanese Red Bridge, Oamaru Public Gardens.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Elaine Marland. Date: 9/04/2018.
  • Japanese Red Bridge, Oamaru Public Gardens.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 25/02/2019.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7152 Date Entered 24th February 1994 Date of Effect 24th February 1994


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 2 DP 317966 (RT 70398), Otago Land District, and the structure known as the Japanese Red Bridge thereon, as shown in the extent map tabled at the Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 5 April 2016.

City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 317966 (RT 70398), Otago Land District


This arched timber bridge, designed by Oamaru architect Ivan Steenson in 1929, and inspired by the Shinkyo Bridge at the Nikko Temple in Tochigi prefecture of Japan, has architectural significance. Crossing Oamaru Creek, the Japanese Bridge provides a striking link between the two parts of the Oamaru Public Gardens.

In 1876 the Oamaru Public Gardens opened on a 34 acre reserve set aside in the 1858 town survey. With their mix of native and exotic plantings, formal lawns and garden beds set alongside the meandering Oamaru Creek, the gardens were a popular gathering and walking place. By the latter half of the nineteenth century the knowledge of Japanese architecture and design began to influence Western garden design – ‘romantic articulations of tranquil harmony’, a poetic vision of Japan appealing to Western desire to visit a nostalgic past. Oamaru would also turn to Japan for inspiration in the Oamaru Public Gardens.

The late 1920s saw new structures built in the gardens, including the Greenhouse and children’s playground. Bridges were also renewed or new ones built – including this bridge linking the north and south sides of the gardens, separated by Oamaru Creek. Notes record that the bridge was designed by Oamaru architect Ivan Steenson, and constructed by unemployed boys during the Depression, supervised by H.J. Jenkins. A 1947 article records that ‘when the erecting a new bridge in the Gardens came under review, it was decided to copy the red lacquer bridge of Nikko.’ The bridge the article refers to is the Shinkyo Bridge that acts a gateway to the shrines and temples of Nikko, at Nikko City in Tochigi prefecture and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Red Bridges or Guzei are a component of traditional Japanese Gardens, symbolising the route the blessed take to salvation.

The bridge is an appealing structure in the gardens, and an attraction in spring time when the nearby (and appropriately planted) cherry blossoms were out. In 1947, the Otago Daily Times recorded that ‘[r]esidents of Oamaru can at present fully appreciate the artistry of the Japanese bridge in the public gardens, and at the same time gain some impression of the beauties of Japan in cherry blossom time.’

The bridge has been repaired over its life and was apparently rebuilt in tanalised timber in the 1980s. The bridge is an arched timber bridge, with timber hand rails and gilt decoration and is painted red in the style of a Japanese bridge.

In 2015, the Japanese Red Bridge remains an attraction in the Oamaru Public Gardens.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Steenson, Ivan

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

Designed by Mr Ivan Steenson

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1929 -

Rebuilt in tanalised timber

Completion Date

8th December 2015

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Southern region office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Area Office of Heritage New Zealand