The Teposensuki (“Sensuka Bridge”) is the widest and most monumental of the bridges spanning the Juminta River in the central area of the city known as the Kadini (“Nest”). It is also notable for being the sole bridge in the capital built on two levels: a wide central carriageway for commercial traffic and two narrower raised pedestrian passageways on either side. The latter allow citizens and tourists to traverse the bridge at a more leisurely pace and take in the impressive views over the riverfront.
Mounted at the very centre of the bridge’s south balustrade is a stone statue of a man and woman embracing, known simply as “The Lovers.” Such is the fame of this statue that the Teposensuki is often referred to as the Teponemoi (“Lovers’ Bridge”), and indeed that is the name by which it is most commonly known outside of Sensuka. The statue was created over a hundred years ago, in the reign of the Empress Aritokéh, by the celebrated sculptor Pumanton. According to legend, “The Lovers“ was originally two separate sculptures, commissioned for the garden of a nobleman’s villa. Upon completing the two figures, however, Pumanton was so taken with the beauty of his creations that he decided to keep them for himself. He therefore immediately set to work on a new pair of sculptures to give to the nobleman in their stead, temporarily placing the finished statues next to one another in a corner of his workshop. Such was the beauty of the statues, however, that they fell in love. When Pumanton arrived at his workshop one morning, he discovered the two in their present position, locked in each other’s arms. Far from being pleased by this supreme testament to his skill, however, Pumanton was overcome by a jealous rage and set upon the statues with his carving hammer—This is said to be the reason for the chips on the male statue’s right arm and on the female statue’s right knee. Fortunately, an apprentice arrived upon the scene and forcibly subdued his master before he could do any more damage.
There is of course no historical evidence for this tale. Indeed, there are records in the Imperial Archives of a commission for a statue of a pair of lovers to decorate the bridge. It is true that the two figures appear to be made out of two slightly different types of stone, but this is a result of the sculptor’s skillful handling of natural variations in the original stone block.
It has become popular for tourist couples to have their portrait taken next to the famous lovers. We see three such pairs posing at the base of the statue. They are being sketched by three short-order artists, who are seated directly on the paved stone passageway. The neighbourhood just to the east of the bridge is home to many artists, mostly struggling, for whom such tourist portraits are a significant source of income. It is possible that the shaggy-haired, bespectacled portraitist on the left is a self-portrait of the artist.
In the foreground of the print, we see the top sections of closely packed carts and/or wagons on the central carriageway, suggesting the bridge’s characteristic hustle-and-bustle. Seated atop a pile of hay on one such vehicle is a curious-looking child figure. He is holding up a banner on which is written a sentence that could be translated to: “Oh Sensuka, with you, business never stops.” This is a popular saying about the mercantile-minded city. It may be seen as being illustrated here by the heavy commercial traffic along a bridge so closely associated with romance. The artist’s inclusion of the phrase may also be intended as an ironic reference to the monetizing of The Lovers’ statue by the portraitists and by the city’s tourism industry in general.
The lovers themselves, meanwhile, sit high above the tumult on their stone pedestal, unconcerned with anything outside of their forever culminating passion for one another. Even as they kiss, they appear from their expressions to be on the verge both of laughter and of tears, grasping at each other in ecstatic disbelief at the miracle that has brought them together.