NAGANO '98 Kids' Info Center



Kaido: The Ancient Roads of Japan

Japan began to develop a nationwide network of roads from around the 7th century to carry foot, horseback, and wheeled traffic and transport goods between towns and villages. The major thoroughfares connecting the capital of Kyoto with the provinces were called kaido. There were seven kaido. The principal ones were the westbound route from Kyoto, the San'yodo, and the eastbound route, the Tokaido. These historical names have been preserved in the names of railway lines such as the San'yo and Tokaido Shinkansen routes that combine to link Kyushu with Tokyo.

As time passed, lodgings for travelers along these highways grew into towns and routes that avoided steep passes came into being, so that traveling became easier. But construction of bridges and operation of ferries across some rivers were prohibited for reasons of military defense, and travelers were carried over on the shoulders of porters.

The kaido running through Nagano are the Chikuni and the Hokkoku. The Chikuni way was used by carriers taking salt and marine produce on their backs from the Sea of Japan into the interior--it is also known as the "salt way."

On the Hokkoku kaido, travelers used horses to negotiate the steep foothills of Mt. Asama. A packhorse driver led the horse carrying the traveler, singing a song that is still sung and has become one of the best-known Japanese folksongs.