Traveling the Tokaido

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.)

5 thoughts on “Traveling the Tokaido

  • July 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Awesome! Can’t wait to read it, Susan. You really have me most intrigued.

    Did the Daimyos hassle travelers for the sole purpose of obtaining money from them or exerting power over them, or was there some overriding reason for them to demand passes, ID, or other documents?

  • July 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Hi Susan. Just tried to comment, and it didn’t publish.

    • July 9, 2012 at 11:06 am

      Hi Piper – sometimes the site has issues and doesn’t display the comments immediately. My webmaster is working on a fix. I’m glad it worked eventually, and thanks for commenting! I love hearing from you.

  • July 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Okay. I see that one so I’ll try again.

    Awesome info. Can’t wait to read your books!

    Were the Daimyos just power-hungry, money-hungry jerks to hassle travelers about papers, passes, and ID, or was there some overriding reason for them to demand these things? Was it an extension of the isolationist attitude of Japan at that time?

    • July 9, 2012 at 11:03 am

      Hi Piper! The answer to your question is “Yes.” To a certain extent, Daimyo wanted to maximize control over and revenue for their territories (most were perpetually in debt from building and supporting armies of retainers, much like feudal warlords everywhere). There was also a concern about other daimyo passing through (again, in the company of armies) to make war on neighboring territories – nobody wants an army marching through his backyard without his knowledge – and the barricades were partially intended to avoid that problem too. Also, most Daimyo paid taxes/tribute to the Emperor (and the Shogun) and they used the taxes and road passes to help finance that as well. Then again, some were just money-hungry jerks who liked hassling people.

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