The Tokaido
The Lasting Prominebce of Japan's Main Artery

Prologue
Daimyo processions
The Tokaido in woodblock prints
A crossroads between east and west


The roads that carry people and goods are also avenues for information, and they have been catalysts for social development since ancient times. The Tokaido has evolved and changed over the centuries, and a walk along this great road is akin to taking a walk through Japanese history.  During the Edo Period (1603-1868), the shogunate built five highways-the Tokaido, Nakasendo, Oshu Kaido, Koshu Kaido and Nikko Kaido-radiating outwards from the capital in Edo (now Tokyo). The most important of these was the Tokaido, which functioned as the nation's main artery between Edo and the imperial capital of Kyoto.
 The Tokaido has been the major highway between east and west Japan since the eighth century, when Japan first established a system of central rule. Records from that period show that there were three stations in Aichi Prefecture, each with 10 horses for use by officials. However, there were almost no inns along the road in that era, and literature from the period contains passages about travelers with no other option but to sleep in the open.
 The establishment of the first shogunal regime at Kamakura in the twelfth century led to the development of the Kamakura Highway. It is not clear what routes were used to travel between Kamakura and the imperial court in Kyoto, but stretches of the Tokaido must certainly have been included. However, the station system of earlier times disappeared in the Kamakura period and was replaced by a series of settlements centering on inns.
 By the sixteenth century, Japan was divided into a number of warring territories struggling for military supremacy. The three great warlords of the era--Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu--used the highways to move their armies from battle to battle as each in turn rose to a position of dominance. The highways were thus the paths along which Japan moved toward national integration.
Daimyo processions

In 1600 the two great armies of eastern and western Japan clashed at Sekigahara. The victor, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), was keenly aware that highways were vital to the maintenance of an integrated state because of their role as channels for people, goods, and information. The year after his victory, he introduced a system of inn-stations on the Tokaido.
 By the mid-seventeenth century, there were 53 such stations between Edo and Kyoto. These provided lodgings and fresh horses for shogunate officials, daimyo (feudal lords), court nobles, samurai, and other travelers. The amount of traffic on the Tokaido is apparent from the fact that provision was made to station 100 men and 100 horses at each station, compared with 50 men and 50 horses at stations on the Nakasendo, and 25 men and 25 horses on the other three highways.
 The journey from Edo to Kyoto, including the sea passage across Ise Bay, was about 500 kilometers long. In the Edo period, the journey generally took around 15 days. The highway was used by all types of people, but the most notable were no doubt those who made up the daimyo processions. All feudal lords in Japan were required by the shogunal government to spend alternate years in Edo and their domains. The size of the procession for these journeys was determined according to the size of each lord's domain. A minor lord with a domain producing 10,000 goku of rice might be allowed to take 100 retainers, while a major lord with a million-goku fief would take as many 2,000.
 These people, together with animals and servants to carry their goods, formed incredibly long processions. In 1691 a German physician named Engelbert Kämpfer encountered the procession of a major daimyo of the Kii-Tokugawa clan while returning from Edo to Nagasaki. He recorded in his diary that he met the head of the column an hour after dawn. The baggage train continued to pass for the next few hours, and it was not until noon that he encountered the procession proper. By the time all of the people and animals had passed, it was five in the evening!  The daimyo were accommodated in specially appointed inns, while their retainers stayed in surrounding lodges. One of these special inns has been preserved in its original state at Nikawajuku in the city of Toyohashi in Aichi Prefecture. The adjoining museum features a miniature model of a daimyo procession as well as a fascinating collection of items used by travelers.
 The aim of the alternating residence system was to weaken the economic and political power of the daimyo and strengthen the dominance of the shogunate. According to records from one feudal clan, the cost of making the trek consumed 20% of the annual budget. Yet from a modern perspective, it is apparent that the system brought prosperity to the highways and inn towns. The system was also a driving force for Japan's modernization as it fostered closer contact among different regions and led to the sharing of information.


The Tokaido in woodblock prints
The highways were paths to unknown worlds. In the second half of the Edo period, there was a rapid increase in the number of ordinary people traveling on pilgrimages to temples and shrines. One comic author from this period, Jippensha Ikku, provides a vivid account of the enjoyment that ordinary folk took in making this long journey in a humorous book called Tokaidochu Hizakurige (tr. Shank's Mare), which describes the adventures of two friends as they travel the Tokaido.  Scenes from the Tokaido also provided material for ukiyo-e woodblock prints, an art form that reached its pinnacle during the Edo period. Among the artists to produce superb Tokaido landscapes were Hishikawa Moronobu, Katsushika Hokusai, and Utagawa Hiroshige. Works such as these further increased the popularity of travel among the common people.
 Hiroshige, who produced some 40 series of Tokaido prints during his career, was especially popular. It was he who established the landscape as an ukiyo-e genre. One of Hiroshige's prints depicts the inn town of Goyu, a scene that is still preserved unchanged in present-day Toyokawa. The print presents a humorous scene, in which a woman from one of the inns is trying to drag a traveler into her establishment. When one stands on the spot shown in the picture, it becomes apparent that the Tokaido was a surprisingly narrow road on which people must have been hard pressed to escape the attentions of those touting for business.
 An elderly resident recalled that the Tokaido was still a gravel road when she got married, and that passing trucks hit the eaves of her house or flicked stones from their tires through her windows. She said that the area had become very quiet since the construction of a separate national highway, but that the residents still had an old-fashioned attachment to the neighborhood.
A crossroads between east and west
The old Tokaido covers a distance of approximately 80 kilometers in Aichi Prefecture. There is also the Saya Kaido, a land route that enabled people to traverse Ise Bay when bad weather prevented sea crossings. In some of the 13 inn towns along the Tokaido and the Saya Kaido, local industries arose to produce tie-dyed fabrics, which were popular souvenir items. One such location is Narumi-shuku in Nagoya.
 Numerous smaller roads linked Aichi Prefecture with neighboring regions. In the Edo period, these roads helped to support a variety of economic activities. The geographical advantage of the Owari and Mikawa regions as a crossroads between eastern and western Japan is immediately apparent from a map showing this network of roads.
 Aichi still enjoys this advantage in our modern age of railroads and expressways. In the past, a round trip between Edo and Kyoto took at least a month. Today the same journey can be completed in one day by bullet train or expressway. A second Tomei Expressway is now being built to provide a new link between Tokyo and Nagoya for the next century.
 The world appears to be placing an increasingly higher demand on speed. A maglev--a new type of train that is levitated above the tracks with powerful magnets and expected to achieve speeds of 500 kilometers per hour--is undergoing trial runs, and information can now be sent around the world instantaneously. Perhaps that is why there are people who still choose to walk the 500-kilometer length of the old Tokaido, where one can enjoy a taste of slower-paced life along cedar-lined avenues.