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The Old Tokaido

Destination in Kyoto
By Ando Hiroshige
By Ando Hiroshige

This article is a review of the book Rediscovering the Old Tokaido, by Professor Patrick Carey and was published with the approval and the assistance of the author.

Many Japanese thought that the Tokaido, the old road connecting Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto, did not exist any more. Fired by some clues obtained from old maps and books, the author of this book set out to investigate if this was really true. He followed in the footsteps of Hiroshige and tried to identify the famous places and landscape sceneries depicted by the great ukiyo-e master nearly 170 years ago.

Patrick Carey is an associate professor at Reitaku University Chiba Prefecture, Japan. His hobbies are walking, photography and ukiyo-e - Japanese woodblock prints.

History of the Tokaido

The old Tokaido was a coastal road connecting the capital Edo and the old imperial residence town of Kyoto. It covered 303 miles (488 kilometers). The origin of the Tokaido goes back to the seventh century.

During the Edo period, the Tokaido was an important key artery for the ruling shogun dynasty to keep control over the country. To facilitate traveling on the Tokaido, 53 post-towns were established along the road. The Tokaido soon developed into the most important commercial route in old Japan.

Hiroshige's 53 Stations of the Tokaido

In 1832 Ando Hiroshige had the possibility to experience the complete Tokaido by joining an official mission of the Shogunate from Edo to Kyoto. By that time Hiroshige had retired as a young fire warden and had already established some reputation as a printmaker with a series of famous places of Edo.

Hiroshige made sketches of each of the fifty-three post-stations and back at home, he published his famous series Tokaido no gojyu san tsugi, the Fifty-three stages of the Tokaido - actually consisting of 55 prints, one for the starting point in Edo at the Nihonbashi Bridge and one for the destination in Kyoto.

The series of the Fifty-three stages of the Tokaido was uncommon in two aspects. It was a landscape series centered around such an ordinary thing like a road system and it showed ordinary people - carriers, travelers or waitresses from the tea-shops along the road. The series turned out to be a great success and Hiroshige later made many new variations of Tokaido no gojyu san tsugi.

In Hiroshige's Footsteps - the Tokaido Today

During the modernization of Japan in the Meiji era and in the twentieth century the original Tokaido had become obsolete and forgotten.

In 1999, Professor Patrick Carey, armed with an old map and copies of the famous Hiroshige prints, walked the whole distance from Tokyo to Kyoto, trying to follow the old Tokaido. To his astonishment, large parts of the original Tokaido were still there, at least recognizable. With the exception of a cedar-lined path with stone pavement at Hakone, cherished as a tourist attraction, the old Tokaido was mostly deserted.

Literature source

"The book depicts all 55 designs of the "Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido" (photos from the Tokyo National Museum) and shows photographs of the scenes today where they could be identified. The stations and their history are described with many interesting historical details. The book can be ordered from your regular bookseller or from and other Internet booksellers."

Dieter WanczuraAuthor: Dieter Wanczura