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  • The Tōkaidō Road: Traveling and Representation in Edo and Meiji Japan
  • Lawrence E. Marceau
The Tōkaidō Road: Traveling and Representation in Edo and Meiji Japan. By Jilly Traganou. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004. xvii, + 270 pages. Hardcover £60.00/US$104.95.

Jilly Traganou's Tōkaidō Road provides a valuable multidimensional perspective on what is arguably the most renowned thoroughfare in the world. From ancient Rome's Via Appia to the Grand Canal in China, to Route 66 in the United States, many highways and byways have over time taken on enhanced meanings beyond serving just as a way for getting from point A to point B. Japan's Eastern Seaboard macruit (as we might literally translate the term tōkai-dō) has likewise played not just a single but multiple, sometimes contradictory, roles over more than a millennium of Japanese history. As the author eloquently shows in the course of her study, the Tōkaidō, "either by its being imagined as the realm of the margin" in pre-Meiji Japan, "or by its being appropriated under the auspices of the 'central' ideology in the Meiji era, has been a locus of identity formation" since at least the early tenth century and continuing to the present (p. 4). As such, the Tōkaidō has consistently served as an evocative, if changing, image.

Originally the Tōkaidō figured in the imagination of Heian aristocrats as the rough path Ariwara no Narihira and his compatriots took in exile away from the capital. As depicted in Ise monogatari, the poets cross over a maze of "eight bridges" in Mikawa province; further on, at the banks of the remote Sumida river, they compose a poem of longing and entrust it to the "capital bird," securing for the Tōkaidō a reputation for exile, loss, and rusticity. With the rise of an alternative military capital in Edo after the sixteenth century, however, the Tōkaidō became, not a road to nowhere, but a bridge between two great locations, the seat of culture and court traditions to the west in Kyoto, and the new city of opportunity to the east, Edo. In early modern Japan, the Tōkaidō became an end in itself, and guidebooks, maps, and illustrated depictions of the highway, famous sites along the way (including, but not limited to, Mt. Fuji, center of a cult of reverence by this time), rest stops, inns, and other points of interest appeared in printed and illustrated media in nearly unbroken succession. From Asai Ryōi's (c. 1612-1691) Tōkaidō meishoki (six vols., Kyoto, c. 1660) to Akizato Ritō's (fl. 1780-1814) Tōkaidō meisho zue (six vols., Edo, 1797), to Utagawa Hiroshige's (1797-1858) first edition of the series Tōkaidō gojūsan tsugi (Edo, 1833-1834), the highway was celebrated throughout the early modern period in and of itself and in great detail. In a real sense the protagonist of Jippensha Ikku's (1765-1831) best-selling serial work of comic fiction Tōkaidōchū hizakurige (Edo, 1802-1809, known in English by the title Shank's Mare) is not the hapless pair of travelers Yajirobei and [End Page 263] Kitahachi, but rather the Tōkaidō itself. With Hizakurige, readers could both read about the highway and experience (in somewhat exaggerated form) a range of adventures that might have occurred along the route.

Following the establishment of a new centralized capital in Tokyo and the subsequent construction of the Tōkaidō Railway, the route transformed from an independent entity connecting two capitals to an extension of central authority and a symbol of the new modern state. This new identity was reinforced with the opening in 1964 of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, or the New Tōkaidō Line, an event that heralded Japan's "comeback" after its defeat in World War II and set a new standard for technological innovation, establishing Japan's identity as a leader in the postwar industrial world.

The above narrative is generally historical in structure, but the author herself handles the subject in a thematic manner, based on the ideological uses observers, planners, and everyday travelers have made of the Tōkaidō. This approach...


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