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Home » Archives » January 2007 » The Famed Tokaido Today

The Famed Tokaido Today

Monday, January 15, 2007 Posted: 07:02 PM JST

Dutch photographer Guus Rijven has published a photography book on the historical Tokaido route as it looks today. The Tokaido or Great Coastal Route is the oldest and most well known road in Japan. It linked East to West, emperor to general, and spiritual leader to worldly ruler. Men in power realized the significance of the route thoroughly. The supervisor of the Tokaido supervised the whole country at the same time. That’s why 53 stations or halting-places were officially established along the five hundred kilometers between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto.

Travelers on the Tokaido were merchants and messengers, daimyo (lords) who had to prove loyalty to the shogun (general) in the capital and an increasing number of tourists who under the cloak of pilgrimage got themselves an excuse to enjoy the pleasures of the journey.

After the publication in 1802 of Shanks Mare, a comic novel, the Tokaido became the destination in itself for the commoner who could spare the time and cash. By this time, Edo already numbered over a million inhabitants. The Tokaido became the most intensively travelled road in the world.

In the station towns, the entertainment industry flourished. Teahouses, taverns, restaurants with their specialties, inns as well as brothels sprung up like mushrooms and flourished. Fun travel created fun shopping and multi-colored woodblock-prints became greatly desired souvenirs. They were both picture and memory. Tens of Tokaido-series were designed, published and put on sale. A series counted at least 55 prints, 53 stations plus the two terminuses.

After the opening of Japan in 1868, the country changed rapidly. The craft of the common people, the woodcut print, entered the nobility of the visual arts and turned from low to high art. Photography followed more or less the same course. Collections were laid out, research undertaken, books published.


Due to the development and motorizing of rail and road traffic the Tokaido soon fell into desolation, lacking function and attraction in modern times. The twentieth century adjusted, molested and modernized most things. Preservation of landscape and architecture had never been a priority in Japan. Demolition and reconstruction were common and self-evident. Yet, even today, the Tokaido is an important notion in the historical idea of every Japanese. Nowadays, even a revival is taking place to once again travel parts of this former artery.

Dutch photographer Guus Rijven travelled the Tokaido to create a present-day photographic impression. This make-over compares the traditional visual figures of speech to the reality of the twenty-first century. It’s a present-day replacement and a ‘parody’ at the same time. In Japan a ‘mitate’ or ‘parody’ is a freely used form to shape the meaning of a piece of work from literal to reference. The photographic journey was made from Kyoto to Tokyo. The photographs of this journey have now been published as a book: Tokaido Make-Over.

Exhibitions in the Netherlands:
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Jul 07 – Oct 22, 2006)
SBK Amsterdam Osdorp, Keurenplein 28-30, Amsterdam (Dec 30, 2006 – Jan 20, 2007)
SBK Oosterhout, Bredaseweg 106c, Oosterhout (Feb 03 – Feb 24, 2007)

Keywords: arts_entertainment book_news

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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Stone Bridge Press

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