January 29, 2019 / 1:18 AM / 3 months ago

Honzaka Pass: Treading the Old Mountain Way

“That’s a varied chickadee. A red-flanked bluetail may be there, too.” My guide observed, who happened to have a hobby of birdwatching. We were in the middle of a deep mountain where virtually no sound was heard except for an occasional chirping from the birds. It was incredible that we had reached here after only a few minutes drive off the main road.

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. 

Hime-kaido used to be a busy road but it is a tranquil and serene trail now.

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.”

What is left of a great roofed enclosure wall in Suse, the former post-town.

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

Samurai Days On Tokaido RoadRe-experience ancient highways in Aichi prefecture.
Goyu and Akasaka: Afterglow of Tokaido RoadLocated about halfway between Edo and Kyoto, Goyu/Akasaka, was a twin post-town on Tokaido Road.
Okazaki: A Castle, Miso and a FindWhile the city of Okazaki ranks 39th in the size of population among Japanese cities, it boasts Okazaki Castle which was the 4th largest castle in Japan.
Arimatsu: A Living Post-TownArimatsu is one of the few post-towns on Tokaido Road, where you can still see neat lines of merchant houses from Edo period.
Art of Shibori Tie-DyeThe possibility of Shibori, Japanese name for tie-dye, is infinite. The principle is so simple that you can try it at home with yarn, fabric and some dyeing agent.

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