Japan’s famed Tokaido Road runs along the eastern coast of the island of Honshū. The road connects Toyko (formerly Edo) with the ancient capital city of Kyoto.
Originally, the road contained 53 post stations (plus the endpoints of Edo and Kyoto, for a total of 55 “stops”). The stations, often located in villages or small towns along the route, contained inns and teahouses where travelers could stop for the night, obtain fresh horses, and hire porters if necessary.
Where the road passed from one daimyo‘s* territory to another, travelers often needed to show travel passes, identification and other documents. Some daimyo also charged travel fees or assessed taxes against travelers and cargo passing through checkpoints.
During the Edo period (1603-1868) travel along the Tokaido was heavily romanticized and a popular topic in Japanese art and literature. Some of the best-known images of the Tokaido were painted by Japanese artist Ando Hiroshige, whose series showed different facets of life, travel and scenery along the famous road.
The final station before the road’s Kyoto terminus, located in the village of Otsu on the shore of Lake Biwa, features in the second Hiro Hattori mystery, Blade of the Samurai. I hope you’ll come with me and take a closer look at the Tokaido!
* (Daimyo is the Japanese term for a feudal lord. For much of its medieval history, Japan consisted of provinces nominally “ruled” by the Emperor and/or Shogun but actually controlled by various Daimyo and their retainers.)