In the Edo Era (1600–1868), the Tokaido road was the most important route in Japan, linking Kyoto, the imperial capital, with Edo, the seat of the Tokugawa Shogunate. As the name Tokaido (eastern sea route) implies, the road runs east from Kyoto to Edo. Kamigata (upper region) was the district surrounding the emperor's palace in Kyoto. Therefore, during the Edo Era, people still went ‘up’ (nobori) to Kyoto, and ‘down’ (kudari) to Edo. At the Meiji Restoration when real political power was returned to the Meiji Emperor, he moved his Imperial Palace to Tokyo, set up a new central government there and officially transferred the capital from Kyoto to Edo. After this change in hierarchy, people travelled ‘up’ to Tokyo and ‘down’ to Kyoto.
In the Edo Era, travel in Japan was regulated by the Tokugawa Shogunate through the Gokaido (Tokaido, Nakasendo, Koshu Kaido, Nikko Kaido, Oshu Kaido) road system. The Gokaido were initially developed to meet the military needs of the government to facilitate movement of officials, armies, and post. Despite the travel restrictions, the internal stability and expanding economy permitted large numbers of commoners to use the roads. Consequently, by the early 19th century, the emergence of a middle class, composed of lower-class samurai and rising merchants, coincided with an extensive travel boom.
Post-stations (shukuba) offering lodging and other facilities were established along the roads at equal distances. Middle stages and tea houses between post-stations facilitated shorter journeys. Travellers were controlled at checkpoints (sekisho) usually positioned at natural barriers on the roads (such as Hakone and Arai). The road infrastructure included bridges, river crossings, markers at every ri (3927 m) and road maintenance, as well as paving and roadside trees. Travelling was confined to foot for commoners and to horses (which had to be changed at each post station) or palanquins for high-status travellers. There were ferry services at water crossings (Ise Bay, Lake Hamana), but travellers had to hire porters at large rivers like Oi and Abe. The trip from Edo to Kyoto took about 12 days at an average speed of 25 miles a day.
The flourishing of the Gokaido was largely supported by the alternate residence system (Sankin kotai) whereby feudal lords (daimyo) were compelled to travel annually to Edo, where they kept their families and residences. The formal travelling procedure required many followers and a display of wealth demonstrating their high status. Various categories of inns (honjin, waki-honjin, yadoya) were built at each station to accommodate the daimyo processions. Many local merchants and carriers were employed to serve them. Consequently, the regions close to the roads benefited economically from the flow of people and trade. The Gokaido, and especially the Tokaido, became sites of social diversity, where people from different classes and regions met and saw the western novelties being carried from Nagasaki to Edo.
In 1691, Engelbert Kaempfer described the Tokaido (Fig. 1) as, ‘more crowded than the publik (sic) streets in any (of) the most populous towns in Europe’. The Tokaido had 53 post-stations, many of which were parts of castle towns, temple cities, or port cities. They had the highest average population (3950) in relation to the other roads and had many tourist facilities. Franz von Siebold, a Dutch doctor, remarked in 1826, ‘Except for a small portion of the Tokaido which passes through a mountainous region, the road consists of almost a continuous line of towns, villages and teahouses.’ The Tokaido had fewer mountainous parts compared to the other roads. The Nakasendo also connected Edo and Kyoto via a longer inland route, that was scenic but rough. Imperial envoys used the two routes alternately.
The Tokaido became the main artery for travel by the daimyo fulfilling their Sankin kotai obligations and for commoners, because it was less dangerous. However, many parts of the Tokaido were still prey to unpredictable factors, such as bad weather, floods, and thieves. The Tokaido's safety and especially flourishing amusement areas around the post stations increased its popularity in the mass culture of the period. An entertainment industry (including souvenir shops, tea houses, public baths and brothels) developed along the route to alleviate the fatigue of the journey. As a result, the Tokaido was identified in the collective memory as a main part of the ‘floating world’ (ukiyo), a culture based on travelling and constant pursuit of life's transient pleasures. The flowering of the gokaido during the Edo Era became a major theme of the popular arts. The Tokaido's post-stations were added to the list of ‘famous places’, meisho (previously associated with spiritual matters), as sites for escape, illusion and entertainment. This attitude indicates a remarkable attention by the socially-excluded and politically-dissatisfied merchant and master-less samurai classes to the periphery as a possible playground.
Although the Nakasendo route was accepted by both the government and military, as the work proceeded, they realized that the rugged terrain would cause much higher costs and longer construction. Finally, it was abandoned in 1886 for a new route, almost parallel to the old Tokaido road. Figure 1 shows the deviations of the railway from the road, usually as a result of mountainous geography. The route followed the Tokaido road until Atsuta except at Hakone Pass, where it took the easier path via Ashigara (Oiso, Kozu, Gotemba, Numazu), skipping the post-stations at Odawara, Hakone and Mishima. From Atsuta, it followed the ancient Mino Way to the famous Sekigahara Pass. There, it turned south along the Biwa Plain, crossing the southern tip of Lake Biwa via a new bridge over the Seto. The post-stations on the Tokaido road from Kuwana to Ishibe were not included in the railway route, which rejoined the Tokaido road again at Kusatsu. The parts missed by the line were soon connected by private lines that became very popular, creating the so-called ‘railway mania’ at the turn of the century.
Opening ceremonies for the first section between Shimbashi (now Shiodome) and Yokohama (now Sakuragicho) took place on 14 October 1872. Service started between Osaka and Kobe on 11 May 1874, between Kyoto and Osaka on 6 February 1877; and between Kyoto and Otsu in July 1880 after completion of the Osakayama Tunnel (28 June). Nagahama Station (a national treasure since 1958—JRTR 9, pp. 28–29) was built in 1882 as a part of the line, and transport between Nagahama and Otsu was via ship. This made a major contribution to the local economy, but it went into decline after realignment of the railway that excluded the two stations from the route. The entire trunk line between Shimbashi and Kobe was inaugurated on 1 July 1889 with a journey time of 20 hours and 5 minutes.
The railway construction created various negative reactions on the part of the post-stations who saw it as a threat to their prosperity, and Okazaki, Hakone and other post-station towns refused to build nearby railway stations. Travel continued along the old Tokaido road while the railway was under construction. At the same time, the abolition of the travel restrictions gave rise to private businesses, such as land transportation companies, that were now allowed to use horse carriages. A company called Rikuun Moto Gaisha (Land Transport Co.) was established in Tokyo in 1872 and it had merged with all the local transport companies within 2 years. It handled baggage and became affiliated with 2000 local inns, forming a powerful network facilitating road travel. However, completion of the railway resulted in decline of both the post-stations and the land transportation network.
In the Edo Era, numerous prints and maps of the Tokaido road were produced, either as administrative tools or land surveys for the authorities, or as guides and souvenirs for travellers. The original maps prepared by the Shogunate were often very accurate, as demonstrated by the official Tokaido bunken nobe ezu (Tokaido Route Pictograph) drawn in 1716 (Fig. 2). It is an accurate survey drawn in a consistent manner on a plane, but including many exaggerated iconographic symbols. These symbols denote either architectural typologies (shrines, temples, castles, inns), topographical features, or other important elements of the road infrastructure, such as bridges and distance markers (ichirizuka). These 1-ri markers were important for travelling and map reading.
The Tokaido bunken ezu (Fig. 3), drawn in 1690, is an example of a pictographic map. Although drawn in a panoramic style containing vivid details of life along the roadside, it does not lack precision as a map. It derives from a government map of 1651 drawn to a scale of 1:12,000 and contains almost all the ri-markers and cardinal compass directions. It was used as a travel guide containing practical information regarding porterage fees and inn location and prices, to facilitate travel.
Control and practices
Comparison of Figs. 2 and 3 shows that there was no strong distinction between the ‘high and low’ cultures in the Edo Era. Artists of the ‘floating world’ were often commissioned to produce maps by the authorities, and their distinct decorative style penetrated even official maps. Although both maps are drawn in a panoramic way they differ in their space perception. Fig. 2 is a view of space ‘from above’ while Fig. 3 shows space perceived as a ‘field of practices’, as defined by Michel de Certeau. While Fig. 2 aims to describe stable spatial elements, and functions as an active device of survey and control, Fig. 3 describes the route unfolding through time, and offers a narration of events and fables. Therefore, while in the former, Tokaido is perceived as a spatial territory, in the latter, Tokaido is perceived as a temporal entity, deriving from the collective mythology of the era and from the viewpoint of ordinary travellers. It is worth noticing that Mt. Fuji is represented in the latter more than once—at its actual location, and at each point from where it is visible.
The official maps of the Meiji Era are more accurate than their predecessors; they follow Western methods of representation and measurement that had already been used in major cartographic projects of the Edo Era, undertaken mainly by Ino Tadataka. By contrast, Meiji railway maps developed in a different way. A good example is the Tetsudo senro chisen ritei hyo railway map of 1898 (Fig. 4). This map still contains topographical elements of the Edo Era, such as Nihonbashi Bridge in Tokyo, Mt Fuji, etc. However, Tokyo is not named in the same distinct manner as Edo used to be, but is rather a conglomeration of different stations: Shimbashi, Shinagawa, etc. This shows the initial lack of awareness of Tokyo's centrality, making a sharp contrast with the monumentality of Tokyo Central Station, built at the beginning of the Taisho Era (1912–1926).
But most importantly, in this map we see a tangible example of the spatial compression, or geographic distortion, produced by the railway network. Although the diagrammatic perception of space can be explained through the mechanization of the railway and the logistic nature of the chart, it would be a mistake to associate such a phenomenon exclusively with the mechanics of mobility. On the contrary, this spatial compression is reminiscent of the travel guide maps or the game sugoroku (Fig. 5), which is similar to the backgammon board game, and which became very popular after the Edo Era. In these pictures, a diagrammatic, almost fragmented description of space contrasts with the holistic topographic representation of the previous two maps. The frame sequence of important places is more important than the space continuity, the exact geographical location, or the physical formation of the territory as a whole. Space is presented as an enumeration of famous spots, with attention given only to their relevant position inside the travel network. The broader cultural environments within which such spatial perceptions operated are described below.
The misemono shows of the Edo Era, exhibited many foreign novelties reaching Edo via the Tokaido road from Nagasaki Port (for many years, the only port opened to trade with the West). Optical devices (kiki), such as telescopes, microscopes, or peepshow boxes, opened up a new field of vision, operating in a different context from that of ‘western scientific gaze’ rooted in close and objective observation. As the historian Timothy Screech describes, Edo's ‘sunken pictures’ (kubomi-e) plunged the viewer downward into the recesses of their illusionist depths instead of expanding the horizon of the viewer as required by the western use of perspective. In the Edo Era, art was still under the influence of the ‘mind landscapes’ of Yamato (ancient Japanese) culture, and did not intend to reproduce physical or man-made territory in a realistic manner, but instead reproduced the energy or the idea of the place.
For Edo commoners, ‘place’ was a field of illusion, rather than of observation. Depiction of space followed the older literati system of the ‘famous places’ (meisho) adding new meisho around Edo, Tokaido, etc. (Fig. 6) It is important to note that a condition of meisho art presumes travel to significant places to view seasonally changing natural phenomena or historically important spots. Therefore, it is apparent that space in meisho is considered to be ‘movement-oriented space’, a space to be discovered through mobility and travel. As architectural historian Inoue Mitsuo explains, this type of space differs radically from the ‘geometric space’ which can be clearly conceived through a fixed viewpoint. However, the ‘travel boom’ of the Edo Era, as well as the secularization of the arts, gradually turned the attention to less spiritual subject matters. The meisho taking the form of guide books (Edo meishoki, Tokaido meishoki, etc.) or print series, aimed to provide practical information and a ‘manga-like’ (cartoon) depiction of fables and episodes along the way. However, the text of these guide books provides a mere enumeration and an imprecise description of the meisho, that seem to have been repeatedly attributed the same types of virtues—as Edo-banashi warned, ‘Once you've seen one famous place, you've seen ‘em all’.
Attempts at realism
At the Meiji Restoration, the attention of the modern state shifted from the marginal to the central, from the illusory to the specific. The introduction of the railway was a breakthrough in many ways. It established not only one of the most powerful systematic grids of discipline, but also carried the spectacle of modernity through the phantasmagoria of its sight and sound. Westernization, modernization and progress were identified in a remarkably effective manner through steel and the steam engine. As the newspaper Far East wrote in 1872, ‘Until all Japan is so closely united by the iron roads ... prosperity and wealth may increase, and the country become so compact and homogenous that it shall become also very great and powerful!’
The illusions of the optical devices that fascinated the masses in the Edo Era were replaced in the Meiji Era by the three-dimensional, realistic apparatus of railway travel; the viewpoint moved from the bird's eye view to eye level. Not only the image of the locomotives, but also the station buildings (Fig. 7) excited the Meiji public imagination. Shimbashi and Yokohama stations—the first in Japan—were built identically by the American architect R. P. Bridgens, one of 700 or so yatoi (foreign experts) working for the Meiji government. Shimbashi Station was described as, ‘a plain and unassuming two-story edifice of wood faced with stone’, and heralded by the Western press as, ‘the soundest and most testily constructed building’ and ‘far superior to any other buildings in Yedo’. As we can see in the iconography of the period, the Tokaido railway stations—all built in western style—appear as gathering places for foreign and local travellers, and also as major interfaces with the new travel mode—trains, rickshaws and horse carriages are all represented in the views.
The graphic arts were late in catching up with the new perceptions developed through the speed of railway travel. Their subjects included mostly static views of railway stations, or the passage of the locomotive through the countryside. Although there were variations on the overtones, there were no attempts to represent the landscape altered by speed. This task had to be undertaken by another form, which requires a similar temporal development as the railway trip—the railway songs.
In 1900, the railway songs (tetsudo shoka), written by the scholar Owada Takeki, became very popular among young Japanese children and teenagers. These songs, which comprised a grammar school textbook, helped children learn historical and geographical facts strengthening their national consciousness. However, Meiji citizens, still captivated by the Edo pursuit of illusionist escape, saw railway travel as a new type of visual illusion.
Like pictures in the turning light (zoetrope)
Distance passes as we watch
The railway songs of the period are still under the influence of Edo's regional geography, or the perception of the land as marked by historical or mythological events. Additionally, they cannot disguise the confusion of place and time related with railway travel.
We can see Shinagawa port and white waves and mountains over the ocean. Are these mountains in Kazusa or in Boshu?
Returning to the visual arts, the Tokaido post-stations were immortalized in the Edo and Meiji Eras, respectively, in Hiroshige's Tokaido gojusan tsugi (Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road) (Fig. 8) and Kamei Takejiro's Kaiko Tokaido gojusan eki shinkei (True views of the Tokaido) (Fig. 9).
Hiroshige's famous Tokaido series (published by Hoeido) was painted after his first trip along the Tokaido in 1832, on which he followed the shogun's annual convoy delivering horses to Kyoto as a gift to the emperor. Although his pictures are greatly inspired by this trip, his interest in landscape representation is artistic, rather than informative. In this sense, it is not surprising to find that the influences of previous art (such as Tokaido meisho) or literal descriptions like Tokaidochu Hizakurige (Tokaido on Foot), are sometimes stronger than Hiroshige's reality (compare Fig. 7 to Fig. 5). In the same way, there are frequent geographical distortions and seasonal inconsistencies that break the temporal linearity of the route. All these prove the artist's interest in conveying the atmosphere of the ‘floating world’, rather than offering a realistic representation of the road.
In contrast, Kamei Takejiro's True views of the Tokaido in the Meiji Era are the lonely views of Takejiro himself, who died shortly after he finished his journey on foot. The lithographs, based on his paintings, but printed in 1892 after his death, illustrate the decline of the post stations just before the completion of the railway. We can see old and new means of travelling (horses and rickshaws in the countryside; trains in the Tokyo area); the new Okabe Tunnel in Shizuoka Prefecture; telegraph poles and wires across the country; and several night views that convey the feeling of an abandoned countryside. These true views (shinkei) are radically different from the illusionist scenes presented by Hiroshige, 60 years earlier. But what is essential in understanding these diametrically different views is the change of the individual subject—who is producing and consuming such images—during the transition from the Edo to Meiji Era.
In the Edo images of the Tokaido, we see strong influences from the travel literature of the time, as for example Tokaidochu Hizakurige (1802–22) by comic novelist Jippensha Ikku. As the book preface states, one main aspect of the Tokaido's interest is ‘the songs of the carriers about the hills’, ‘the songs of the postboys about the sparrows in the bamboo’, and ‘the one-night love-traffic of the roads’. Therefore, it is not the landscape that is chosen to be viewed in its entirety as a natural form, but the way it is reflected through human interaction. And most importantly, the Tokaido attracts the attention as a microcosm of man-made ‘objects mixed together, as the goods in the shop of a general dealer’.
The heroes in the stories of this period were not specific characters or autobiographical referents but rather comic figures, such as Kita and Yaji in Tokaidochu Hizakurige. On the course of the journey, Kita and Yaji not only forget important details of their family background, but also the specificities of their characters seem to be unimportant for the development of the story. This novel is written with little attention to accuracy or detail of the physical surroundings.
What about the relationship between the railway establishment as a symbolic structure and the Meiji citizen? The city stations are now accessible to all, regardless of social status—a notable development from the space division and class segregation of the Edo Era. As Nagai Kafu's hero confesses in Kocha no yoru (Tearoom Evening) (1911), ‘The waiting room in the station is very comfortable and you can feel at home. There, you don't need to order beer or tea, as an obligation to the waitress and you don't need to get angry, while waiting for the rest of your order for 5 minutes. Sometimes, I feel very stressed in my study-room and I cannot concentrate.... In these cases, I take a light book and I go to this waiting room and I sit on the leather chair.... And in these wide rooms, there are so many people from different social classes, from the elite to the poor. And there, sometimes I think that I can see the drama of their life’.
Nagai's hero in the above passage is a tangible example of the establishment of the ‘inner self’ within the framework of modernity. In a society still captured in the illusionist techniques of escape that flourished in the Edo Era, the self-discipline required by the new state is a dramatic experience affecting directly both society and the individual. The stress on individual development as the foundation of the modern state results in a fundamental division of space between the private and public realm.
Even the humorist views (Fig. 10) of Georges Bigot(2) cannot hide the station as ‘a dramatic stage’. However, although the railway was open to everyone, the function of the station could neither create the sense of escape from the social distinction, nor easily erase feudal manners and norms.
In the ‘moving culture’ of the Edo Era, the city, periphery, and travel merged into one. For the 40% of the Edo population who were temporary male inhabitants related to the Sankin kotai system, the city was a realm of constant displacements. In the popular arts of that period, Edo was identified with places of pleasure, amusement, and commerce, at the city borders—the banks of the River Sumida, or the temple yards. As J. Elissonas has noted, ‘The city was viewed in essence as a mosaic produced by...accidental arrangement of famous places, with only the loosest connecting links between them. In short, the famous places were treated as individual sites and not as parts of an integrated urban complex’.
The idea and actual fact of the city as a fleeting entity giving privileges to the marginal and illusory instead of the orderly, could not easily be accepted by the Meiji government, who saw moral danger for the new society. Not only were these places of ‘ill repute’, but they brought the ‘extraordinary’ within dangerous proximity of normal daily life. They were gradually eliminated through a number of plans, such as establishment of modern public parks (Ueno Park) and axial avenues (Ginza). These proposals promoted specific public attitudes associated with new functions and meanings. The newly established city authority was equated with new organs of control, such as City Hall, the post offices, railway stations and banks. These new institutions were symbolized by specific typologies, that became established in the collective memory through their visual distinction as architectural forms. In this sense, the city took on a new identity of formal, Westernized norms, rather than the informal and peripheral norms of the Edo Era. This was the foundation of the new urban space and state authority.
When Tokyo became the official capital, the direction of terms such as nobori (going up) or jokyo (going up to the capital) changed from Kyoto to Tokyo. However, with abolition of the Sankin kotai system, there was a considerable reduction in Tokyo's population from over 1 million to 670,000. The return to the provinces re-established the idea of the home town, or the city-as-home. Shortly afterwards, economic hardship in the provinces and the promotion of Tokyo as a place of ‘civilization and enlightenment’ created extensive migration to Tokyo from all over the country. After the Russo-Japanese War, inflation and recession led to large-scale movement of farmers to Tokyo. Between 1898 and 1907, inward migration numbered about 50,000 each year, marking the beginning of an intensive urbanization. Tokyo became a place of progress and opportunity—a place to study or to work. Conversely, the provinces were seen as places of tradition and were analogous to the past; the railway formed the link between the two.