‘Connecting People’; all credits to Nokia, for this great slogan, and thanks lots for letting me use it for my blog title… The mobile phone has revolutionized the way people connect, but long before the advent of this small wonder, even before Bell came up with the idea of its elder brother, the roads were the only real connectors…
The law of ‘alternate attendance‘ (Sankin Koutai ‘参勤交代’), was put forward by the Shogunate, to enforce better control over the empire. By this policy, the Daimyo, (大名) should spend 6 months a year in the capital city, and this intensified the Emperor’s control over the Daimyo. Roads were constructed across Japan to facilitate the Daimyos to get to the capital. One of the prominent roads constructed during this period was the Tokaido Road (the East Sea Road) which connected Edo (the then Tokyo) to Kyoto. This 514 km long road saw around 2,000 people travelling on it; walking, on horse backs, or being carried in Norimonos (乗物) or Kagos (輿); every day.
Along this road, 53 stations were developed, each being approved by the Emperor. Inns, hotels, rest houses, parks and many other amenities were developed to cater to the needs of the travelers. These stations later became small villages, and many of them evolved into towns and cities.
Sekijuku (関宿), the 47th station is situated in the Sekijuku Village, and extends over 1.8 km, covering an area of 25 Ha. We visited Sekijuku, as part of the Mie Culture Course, conducted by CIER, Mie University.
Sekijuku is some 25 km drive from Mie University, and is a good place to be on a fine afternoon. We were greeted by our guide, who then took us round the village. The main attractions of the village are the 300 odd years old Jizo temle, the inn museums, the geisha houses, and the village houses.
Jizo temple at Seki Juku, is the first Ojizo-sama temple in Japan. The temple structure is more than 300 years old. The temple complex also houses the oldest wooden structure (1500 yrs) in Mie Prefecture and an old brass temple bell. These are designated as heritage sites.
There were three major inns at Sekijuku, one of which, the Tamaya Inn is now a museum.
The Edo government, taxed the wider buildings, more than the narrow ones. So most of the buildings are narrow and deep.
The sign boards on the road were of special design. The signs facing the traveler, travelling to Kyoto were written using the Hiragana Alphabet, and the ones in the opposite direction were written using Kanji characters. So if you read the signs in Hiragana, you are on the way to Kyoto, and if the signs speak Kanji, you are on the way to Edo.
Sekijuku, now has lost most of its ancient glamour and is now a tourist village at large. The nearest city is Kamayama, which was also a station on the Tokaido road. Route 23, the modern day equivalent to Tokaido road, passes through Kamayama, and not through Seki Juku. This factor alone has protected most of Seki-juku from the darker face of all the advancements that man has made. Seki-juku remains as one great embodiment of the Edo empire, untouched by any modern day chaos, and preserving the rich culture and traditions of an era bygone.