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Breaking Barriers

Breaking Barriers

Travel and the State in Early Modern Japan

Constantine Nomikos Vaporis

ISBN 9780674081079

Publication date: 05/06/1995

Travel in Tokugawa Japan was officially controlled by bakufu and domainal authorities via an elaborate system of barriers, or sekisho, and travel permits; commoners, however, found ways to circumvent these barriers, frequently ignoring the laws designed to control their mobility. In this study, Constantine Vaporis challenges the notion that this system of travel regulations prevented widespread travel, maintaining instead that a “culture of movement” in Japan developed in the Tokugawa era.

Using a combination of governmental documentation and travel literature, diaries, and wood-block prints, Vaporis examines the development of travel as recreation; he discusses the impact of pilgrimage and the institutionalization of alms-giving on the freedom of movement commoners enjoyed. By the end of the Tokugawa era, the popular nature of travel and a sophisticated system of roads were well established. Vaporis explores the reluctance of the bakufu to enforce its travel laws, and in doing so, beautifully evokes the character of the journey through Tokugawa Japan.


  • [Vaporis’s] superbly documented study is distinguished by the rich texture of his narrative, which draws not only on official documents but also in innovative ways on travel diaries and guides, travel literature and even woodblock prints. Indeed, as a monograph on domestic travel and transport in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Japan, this book is excellent. Vaporis makes an exceptionally important contribution to our understanding of one of the most intriguing and understudied aspects of Tokugawa society.

    —Peter Nosco, American Historical Review


  • Constantine Nomikos Vaporis is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Book Details

  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center