On one of the finials of Sanjo bridge we can see a couple of nasty cuts. They were made on the 12th September, 1866.
It was a time of political turbulence in Japan, at the end of the Edo period.
The bakufu (Tokugawa shogunate) had erected a sign (seisatsu) on the bridge proclaiming the Chôshû domain (which covered Yamaguchi prefecture) as enemies of the Emperor.
Chôshû loyalists tore down the sign and threw it in the river. This vandalism happened a couple of times and the third time it was erected, the bakufu ordered the shinsengumi (a special police force) to guard it. They lay in wait, with a few of them undercover, dressed as beggars. When the vandals came back on the night of the 12th, the shinsengumi leaped out and ambushed them. They killed three, but the other five escaped.
The event is known as the seisatsu incident. It left a scar on the flesh of Kyoto, one that we can see and touch today. It connects us directly to the past, to a time where samurai walked the streets and fought in bloody battles.
This is the bridge on Sanjo street, crossing the Kamogawa river in Kyoto.
Here is a closeup of the cuts. The patina has been worn down by people running their fingers over it.