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.
This well-researched account of the development of long-distance recreational travel throws some interesting new light upon one of the more neglected aspects of Japanese social history. By drawing upon a wide range of evidence—official reports, travellers’ diaries and journals, European eye-witness accounts, contemporary maps, wood-block prints and tourist guide-books—the author shows that the Tokugawa period, far from being static or inert, experienced a number of dynamic socio-cultural changes… This scholarly work, which is well-served by numerous maps, statistical tables and contemporary illustrations by various ukiyoe masters such as Hiroshige and Toyokuni, will be of considerable interest to all students of Japanese social history as well as to the wider community.
Constantine Vaporis makes an important contribution to the study of Edo period travel, especially that undertaken by commoners, by examining the social realities of bakufu legal restrictions regarding the movement of people along the state-controlled Gokaido travel network.
This detailed study is…informative and highly readable. It thus serves both as a starting point for further analysis and as a useful source of information for those interested in the comparative history of transport.
This [is a] fascinating book.
- 6 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Asia Center
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