Tokaido Explained

Tokaido Explained
Once upon a time I had a grand dream to walk along the Tokaido Road, to embrace the spirit of 17th-18th-century Japan, to experience the life of a wanderer.
A wonderful dream, but an unfulfillable one. Because the old Tokaido Road has been long gone. And I was well aware of that. But fuelled by advertising campaigns and photos of the few remaining pieces of the road, the dream never went away.

Consider this episode my last attempt to talk myself out of unachievable dreams and shift toward more real goals.
So let's take a look at how Japan's main road came to be, what has happened to it over its more than thousand-year long history, and why the dream of a road trip along an 18th-century road still haunts not only me, but also thousands of Japanese people.

Part 1 – The Road


  • The birth of Tokaido
  • The road from Kyoto to Kamakura
  • Everyone for themselves. Roads in Sengoku Period
  • Nobunaga against checkpoints and the restoration of road network
  • The most expensive road in the world or Tokaido in Edo Period
  • Tokaido Mythbusting
  • Shukuba post stations
  • The road = Ukiyo. Tokaido in art, literature and public imagination
  • The advance of Railroads
  • Tokaido Shinkansen and Tokaido Renaissance. Past vs. Future
  • BONUS: Shukuba Post Stations (Patreon Exclusive)
  • BONUS: River crossings and Sekisho checkpoints (Patreon Exclusive)

Part 2 – The Travellers (on March 17th)


  • Sankin Kotai and daimyo processions
  • “Flying feet” – hikyaku messengers
  • Chatsubo Dochu or travelling pots
  • Theory and practice of travelling the Tokaido. Pilligrimages and pleasure trips
  • Let’s get ready! What to take on a journey?
  • The importance of keeping face in international relations. Foreign Embassies on Tokaido
  • Beware of foreigners! Europeans about Tokaido
  • Murders and Photos – Tokaido in Baku,atsu Period
  • New wave of travellers – Tokaido in Meiji Period
  • Extra: The elephant on the road.

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What to read

If you only have time and energy to read one book about Tokaido, let it be this book. It examines Tokaido from all angles and in great detail. At least I feel like I've walked back and forth on the road a dozen times, and can easily advise other Edo-era travellers on the best detours, the easiest barriers to get through, and other useful trivia.
This book is great and I learned a ton from it. 
But first, I wanted to note that this is not a book describing Tokaido road and its postal stations. It's an academic work that assumes you are already familiar with the topic of Tokaido in general and offers you an additional layer of information: how did the image of Tokaido change with time, how was it depicted, what did it symbolise for different people and in different periods. How maps of Tokaido looked like and why? 
It covers things like this, making it a great book about the Japanese culture of Edo and Meiji periods. Just make sure you learn about Tokaido beforehand and you won't be disappointed. 
Even nowadays people refuse to accept the fact that Hiroshige's landscapes were not a photographic reflection of reality. So here's a map of the places supposedly depicted on the prints from the "53 Stations of Tokaido" series.
If you read Japanese, here are some very entertaining blogs written by contemporary travellers on the Tokaido Road.
And here is a collection of tourist maps covering most of the old road. Some of them are in Japanese, some in English. But the maps are still maps, and it is not necessary to know the language in order to understand them at all.

What to watch

  • First of all, this:

Внезапно неплохой документальный фильм о современном (ну, то есть 2009 года) положении дел на Токайдо. Он неспешный и немного сонливый, но там действительно хорошо рассказано про Токайдо и жизнь в Японии вообще. 

Посмотреть на гравюры Хиросигэ и узнать, что именно на них изображается, можно вот тут. 

Для тех, у кого нет времени на видео Девида, вот 5-минутное введение в “53 станции Токайдо” Хиросигэ. 

А в этом видео можно узнать о том, как собирались в дорогу японские путешественники эпохи Эдо, что они носили и чем питались в пути. 

Не совсем про Токайдо, но вот старый документальный фильм, запечатлевший строительство железнодорожных путей для линии Токайдо синкансен, конструирование поездов и финальный запуск поезда-пули. 
Кино про Токайдо тоже есть. Особенно много про приключения Ядзи и Кита. Но юмор там и в оригинале своеобразный, а в экранизациях особенно. В общем, это не маст си, это очень на любителя. Но это он - безжалостный и беспощадный японский юмор собственной персоной. 
  • Love’s Zephir Along the Tokaido (恋風五十三次), 1952 
  • Mayonaka Yaji-san, Kita-san, 2005 
  • Yaji x Kita Ganzo Tokaidochu Hizakurige, 2019 

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