Japan As They Saw It > Contents > Economy > Roads

Here we entered the tokaido, the great highway which follows the eastern coast from one end of Nipon to the other. There is a net-work of these thoroughfares by which the provinces of the coast and mountains are connected among themselves and with each other respectively. They would be necessary, if only as military roads, to accommodate the transit of the army which each prince is obliged to take with him on his yearly journey to Yeddo. These highways, so important from both a military and commercial point of view, are part of the imperial domain, though they traverse the territories of almost all independent daimios.

As wagons or carts are next to unknown, these roads are intended only for pedestrians and horsemen, and are not always in perfect condition in the rainy season. They are made broad in order that the trains of two princes may conveniently pass each other. ...

Groups of travellers are strung along the road; here and there a horseman riding, if he bear two swords, astride a saddle with a peculiar heavy stirrup of iron, his horse’s mane dressed like a cheval-de-frize with paper cord, and its tail carefully encased in a bag; or if the rider be a merchant, he is perched crosslegged on a high pack-saddle, and carried slowly by a sorry beast. Another group of daimios’ retainers and baggage-bearers, separated from the main train, loiter at a roadside booth, drinking tea or saki, and scowling at the passing foreigners. As we canter gently onward we overtake an humble traveller, bent up in the basket cango, which, slung under a pole, is borne by two men at a trot, who have concluded that it is easier to carry clothing on the cango than on their backs.

Soon a rise in the road shows us a larger group slowly ascending the hill before us. From the number of retainers it seems to belong to a man of high rank, perhaps an inferior daimio. A considerable number of soldiers and men bearing lances, spears, tridents, and other insignia, on long poles, are straggling along the road escorting a large norimon, behind which a caparisoned horse is led by grooms. Richardson had not then been murdered for trying to pass the train of a prince, so following the rule of the road we cross to the right side, and pass the cortege. Strolling mendicants and begging priests, with bells or rattles, sturdy storytellers and pretty-faced bikunins, or travelling nuns, as they are charitably called, make the tokaido their home, and find on it the means of subsistence.

Across America and Asia (1870)

I have mentioned the bad state of the Tokaido between Odawara—that famous town of the siege of which I have elsewhere spoken—and Tokio. I may add that hearing, as I had often done, of the excellence of this great highway between what were formerly the capitals of the Mikado and the Tycoon, I was quite astonished at the state in which I saw it in most of the towns and villages through which it passed. One would have expected that the presence of a populous town, where labour must be cheap, while on the one hand increasing traffic and damaging the highway, would on the other be made available for more than compensating for the extra traffic, and for keeping the road in a thoroughly satisfactory state. But the contrary is the case, and the local traffic is allowed to destroy the highway with seeming impunity, and thus to entail upon long-journey travellers delays, fatigues, and even dangers which are wholly unnecessary. I am quite aware that owing to the abolition of the Daimio traffic, and the existence of steamship communication between the former and present capitals, the Tokaido has become a less frequented highway than it was aforetime; but on the other hand the maintenance and improvement of its internal means of communication are of such great importance to the country, and the western part of the Tokaido is so well kept between the towns and villages, that one could not but continually regret the absence of satisfactory means for compelling the local people to keep the main road good and efficient within their own limits.

Japan: Its History, Traditions, and Religions (1880)

◀ ModernizationWater transportation ▶