Part 1: Following the old Tokaido road through Shizuoka

Soak up the spirit of Edo, walking old trails through the landscape of the Mount Fuji area. Shizuoka Prefecture is easily accessed from Tokyo by train and is full of diverse attractions and great natural beauty.

Mount Fuji from Shizuoka tea fields, image courtesy of Shizuoka Tourism Japan

About the old Tokaido road

The busiest and most direct route between Tokyo and Kyoto from ancient times was the Tokaido – literally the Eastern Sea Road. It was 488 kilometers long and mostly traversed the coast along the Pacific on Honshu island.

Hokusai’s woodblock print ‘Hodogaya on the Tokaido’, 1832, wiki commons image

During the Edo period the ruling military dictator (Shogun) Tokugawa Ieyasu imposed a system called ‘sankin kotai’ requiring regional lords to reside at the Shogun’s court in Tokyo (Edo) for some months each year, and to leave their wives and families there when they returned to their fiefs, thus controlling their actions by a system of ‘hostages’. To travel from their regional castles, a network of roads developed, with government checkpoints to control the movement of the population. Wheeled vehicles were not permitted – another form of Tokugawa control to prevent fast mass movement of armies, and thus these were roads for pedestrians & packhorses, horses ridden by samurai, and palanquins carried by bearers for important people including noble women. Similarly bridges were also forbidden, so crossing several treacherous, wide rivers was done by boat or human ‘piggyback’. Vast armies of foot-soldiers and samurai also used these roads at times, and the steep mountain sections were paved.

Kago Bearers on the Tokaido, by Felice Beato, 1868, wiki commons image

Like the Nakasendo (the inland road), 53 villages called ‘juku’ or post stations were spaced a days’ walk apart along the route providing food, lodging and stables, and were rowdy places during the Edo period (1603 to 1868). The famous woodblock artist Hiroshige created a series entitled ‘The 53 Stations of the Tokaido’ after he travelled the route in 1832 and was impressed by the beautiful landscapes of rural Japan with Mount Fuji often dominating the background.

Hiroshige’s ‘Travellers on a mountain path along the coast’, 1832, wiki commons image

Today this same route is consumed by a national highway and the main arterial bullet train rail line, smothering most of the traces of the old pedestrian road. However, sections of the trail away from the larger towns still remain and are progressively being restored and the spirit of Edo can still be experienced.

Remnant 400 year-old Namiki cedars on the Tokaido in Moto Hakone