Old Tokaido Road

500 km journey from Tokyo to Kyoto

Running through the heart of Hakone is the Old Tokaido Road. The road was one of the most important in all of Japan because it served to connect the cultural and imperial capitol of Kyoto with the political and economic center of Tokyo. The road was the setting for many famous stories, the backdrop for ukiyo-e art, and used by samurai and traveling royalty. Hakone has some of the best preserved sections of this wonderful piece of history. Walking among the trees and on the cobble stones transports you to a different time, an experience to feel with all your senses.

 provided by 箱根郷土資料館

During the time of the samurai, the Tokaido Road was the most heavily used of a small number of main roads in Japan. The Tokugawa Shogunate created a number of policies that made the Tokaido a piece of Japanese culture. Distant daimyo, feudal lords, were forced to live in Edo during alternate years and made the move with long and extravagant processions of servants and samurai. This move ensured a regal atmosphere and high maintenance of the road that was shared between peasant and royalty.

 

Another reason for the notoriety of the Tokaido Road were policies that severely restricted the movement of the common people, especially women during the Tokugawa reign. In order to prevent a rebellion and limit communication between areas, travelers were forced to obtain permission to travel on the road. These papers would be checked at certain “check points” along the road, with one of the most noted being on the shores of Lake Ashi in Hakone. You can visit the rebuilt barrier gates of the check point faithfully reconstructed in the same place they occupied for hundreds of years.

 

When walking along the Old Tokaido road you are transported to a different time. This is especially true when you visit the Amazake Chaya. Along the busy Tokaido road there were businesses catering to the needs of the travelers. There were places to stay, eat, drink and rest.

 

The Amazake Chaya has been serving the same menu, in the same location, in what is essentially the same building for hundreds of years. It is now run by the 13th generation of the same family. You can enjoy the same mochi and sweet amazake that was served to other travelers centuries ago. Walking under the thatched roof, on dirt floors, with wooden pillars that show their age is a special genuine experience that takes you back to a different time.

 

The Tokaido Road has been the setting for Noh drama and traditional artwork. Utagawa Hiroshige was considered one of the last great masters of Ukiyo-e, wood block printing. One of his most famous pictures is of the view of Mt. Fuji from the Tokaido Road. Having the ability to walk through one of Hiroshige`s famous block prints is an experience to have on a visit to Japan.

 

picture taken in 1890,  provided by 箱根郷土資料館

A wonderfully preserved section of the road exists on the banks of Lake Ashi. Here you can walk among the towering trees that were planted over 300 years ago under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The road has changed little over that time. The trees that were planted to provide shade to travelers still do their job hundreds of years later. Walking among the quite giants gives you time to appreciate and feel the history of this beautiful road. Anybody on a  list of notable historic Japanese figures in the Edo area would have traveled this road. Imagine a time of samurai, running messengers, princesses, and traveling nobility on the same road you can walk today.

 

The Old Tokaido road runs from Hakone Yumoto and up the mountain past the shores of Lake Ashi. The most impressive sections are near the lake between the Barrier Check Point and the Amazake Chaya. Enrich your visit with stories, guidance, and access provided by Explore Hakone’s private tour. I’m a professional local connected and proud of this beautiful part of Japan and look forward to sharing it with you. It is a wonderful piece of living history in Japan. It is a road that has stories to tell, places to feel, and people to meet.


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