For centuries, the Tokaido or Great Coastal Route has been the most important road in Japan. Over a distance
of five hundred kilometres it connected Imperial Kyoto to the east with Worldly Edo, now known as Tokyo.
The route of the Tokaido, that literally means Eastern Sea Way, follows the coast for most of the way. The 53
post stations planned by the government in the 17th century along the road developed into distinct villages.
Besides being a functional connection between two important cities, the Tokaido with its stopping-places was a source of inspiration for artists. Various print series, woodcuts, are made as a visual commentary on the stages of the route; they served the common traveller as a souvenir as well as a memento of the hardship.
Railway construction rapidly made the Great Coastal Route superfluous when Japan underwent the rigorous
transition from a ‘medieval’ society to a ‘modern’ state in the second half of the 19th century. Besides a jagged
line drawn on a map, what remained after the road was no longer needed for transportation was an idea, perfectly reflected in numerous books and hundreds of woodcuts. The existing route remained in spirit only.
Tourists finally gave the Tokaido a new purpose, waking it from 150 years of ‘hibernation’. The circle is practically
round, rebirth a fact: from a functional road connection to the source of travel ideas to a leisure time destination.