Follow in the footsteps of samurai on Japan’s oldest trail

TOKYO, Sep 28 (National Geographic) - As the country reopens to travel, now is the best time to explore the Tokaido, a major road that inspired humorous manga-like travel guides and one of Japan’s most famous artworks.

In the 1650s, a Buddhist priest and his companion set out from Tokyo, then called Edo, on a several hundred mile walk west along Japan’s Tokaido highway to Kyoto. Traveling like many under the auspices of a pilgrimage, the pair followed the era’s most important trail along rugged coastline, through wooded mountains, and over gushing rivers.

On route, they sampled local delicacies and took in famous landmarks: temples, shrines, castles, and the symmetrical beauty of Mount Fuji. They had mishaps too: at one point they were chased by a curly-tailed dog.

Unlike other travelers, however, these two men weren’t real; they were the main characters of a six-volume fictionalized guidebook called the Tokaido Meishoki (Famous Sites Along the Tokaido). In it, author Asai Ryoi, a Buddhist priest who had traveled the Tokaido, used his protagonists’ often humorous adventures to introduce readers to local culture, customs, and historical information centered on the road. He also included simple manga-like drawings—almost 150 years before the term was coined—to whet the appetite of readers traveling vicariously from the comfort of their tatami. ...continue reading