Read CHAPTER X - On the tokaido and in the tea-houses of Sketches of Japanese Manners and Customs, free online book, by J. M. W. Silver, on

Extending over the whole empire of Japan, regular ferries connecting it with the different islands, is the ‘Tokaido,’ or ’Imperial High Road,’ to which occasional reference has been made.

Originally constructed at the instigation of a Tycoon of more than ordinary abilities, it has, from the constant care bestowed upon it for centuries (each Daïmio being compelled to keep that portion of it which passes through his dominions in repair), become a broad and well-graduated highway.

It is frequently sheltered by avenues of colossal pines, cryptomerias, and other lofty trees; and small plantations of the graceful bamboo are generally to be seen in the neighbourhood of the roadside houses.

The scenery is sometimes very lovely: mountain-ranges are to be observed rising one above another, in that wild conglomeration peculiar to volcanic countries; and in the Island of Nipón the snowy cone of Fusiyama is almost always visible from the higher ground.

The hilly country is thickly wooded; but terraces of fields are sometimes cut in the sides, where the formation of the ground permits. The lowlands and valleys are mostly covered with rich crops of cereals, which are watered by natural or artificial streams.

As the Tokaido winds along the hill-tops, occasional glimpses of the sea meet the eye, often with a series of headlands jutting one beyond another into it, and distant islands dotting the horizon.

By the wayside many rare and beautiful ferns are to be seen; and in their seasons, the large white lilies of the country, hydrangeas, violets, orchids, and an endless variety of wild flowers.

Along this beautiful road are constantly passing Daïmios and their hosts of retainers, trains of travellers and pilgrims, and a large portion of the island traffic of the empire. As the Tokaido passes through most of the principal towns, the traveller has frequent opportunities of observing the various avocations of the people; for mechanics commonly work in front of their doors, as shown in the woodcut; and in fine weather, the sliding windows through which the Japanese enter their houses are always drawn back, leaving the interior and its occupants open to the road.

The baker’s shop opposite affords a good specimen of the wayside scenes, and conveys a fair idea of an ordinary Japanese house. It will be noticed that the puppies in the foreground, as well as the cat in the girl’s arms, are very differently delineated; but such animals are the especial stumbling-blocks of the native artists, although they faithfully represent birds, fishes, and reptiles.

With the exception of the Daïmios on their state journeys (who, by the way, have regular halting-places at tea-houses officially set apart for their use), for the mass of the people to be seen on the Tokaido belong to the lower classes the aristocracy considering it beneath their dignity to travel for pleasure, or to make pilgrimages.

Naturally hardy and energetic, the Japanese seem thoroughly to enjoy travelling, which in fine weather has few drawbacks. It is true that the peremptory order, ‘Chetanerio,’ or ‘Down upon your knees,’ at the approach of one of their oligarchical rulers, would be objectionable to Europeans; but the Japanese are accustomed to this, and proceed with their journey after half-an-hour’s detention without being in any way put out by it.

The numerous and pleasant tea-houses that skirt the Tokaido have a great deal to do with rendering travelling popular, A smiling welcome from the pretty waitresses employed at these places may always be anticipated by the weary wayfarers; and, however slight their requirements may be, they are certain to be promptly and courteously attended to.

If the means of travellers do not permit them to resort to the tea-houses, there are sheds and stalls at intervals along the road, where they can obtain fruit or refreshments at a trifling cost.

Some of the tea-houses in the vicinity of large towns are much frequented in the spring-time by pleasure-parties, on account of the beauty of their gardens. The chromo-lithograph opposite represents one of these parties, some of whom appear to have been indulging too freely in saki. The fellow dancing and waving the fan about is apparently addressing a love-song to the lady opposite, whose husband is evidently desirous of putting a stop to the flirtation.