We were near the top of Honzaka pass. It is the peak of Hime-kaido which had been a busy road several hundred years ago but obviously not now. This 60 km or 40 miles mountain way served as a detour route to main Tokaido Road to circumvent a large brackish lake, Hamanako. Although the route went through steep mountains, it was used regularly by the travelers after the crossing of the lake on the Pacific coast side became impassable due to the destruction brought by a huge tsunami in the early 18th century.
Honzaka pass was used to be the most difficult section for the travelers. Fortunately, today we only had to descend to re-experience the ancient road.
The terrain was rather rugged and presented a bit of a challenge to an unsuspected city dweller which I am, but it was a rewarding experience. Treading down the ancient road through tranquil forest, breathing crisp autumn air, I felt totally refreshed. The scenery was beautiful too, with neat lines of straight cedar trees on both sides and the sunlight streaming through their leaves.
Continuing the descent, we came across a trace of an animal - the mountain side of the road was dug out randomly. Wild boars. They are said to scrape the soil with their tusk and feast on fat mountain worm. Later, we found a fresh dropping most likely left by the animal.
Another reason why this detour route was favored by some is related to its namesake. Hime means women in Japanese language (Kaido means a highway). There used to be a checkpoint on the main Tokaido road and their inspection was notorious for its vigorousness especially against women. Female travelers are said to have preferred this route, although it took a lot more time compared to the main route which went along the coast in an almost straight line.
Many people and things traveled on Hime-kaido avoiding the inspection or defunct crossing. Even an elephant climbed up this mountain road on its way to Edo in 18th century. Probably, it could not cross the lake. The animal was a gift to the ruling Shogun from Vietnam. As a testament to the steepness of this route, the elephant is said to have screamed from the fatigue climbing up one of the mountains on Hime-kaido. The local people still call that section of the road “Elephant Screamer.”
Less than one hour of descent from the peak will bring you to Suse, the former post-town on the route. It once had twelve lodgings but all is gone now. Only a narrow road winding through the village and a fraction of the roofed wall which must have enclosed the largest hotel there were what you can see now as a clue to its heyday.
For more information visit Aichi Now
More from this series
The Reuters editorial and news staff had no role in the production of this content. It was created by Reuters Plus, part of the commercial advertising group. To work with Reuters Plus, contact us here.