The postal town on the old Tokaido road

ON THE recent visit to Tokyo, Shinagawa was home base. Home was a residential cluster on a hilltop a short distance from the train station. The panorama from the balcony captures the modernity of the district.

Shooting skyward are modern structures. Condominiums, embassies, corporate headquarters, and hotels clad in glass, reflections of the ward’s faces on its surfaces—the tranquility of night and the bustle of day.

Hidden within the cosmopolitan character of the area is a remnant of its distant past. Hints of old Shinagawa still detectable in an area not far from the busy train station. The former prefecture played an important role in history, which made it the prosperous area it is today.

Shinagawa was a post town (shukuba) on the Tokaido Road (East Sea Road), the most important of the five routes of the Edo Period that links Edo and Kyoto. It travels the sea coast of Eastern Honshu (thus, the route’s name).

Along the Tokaido Road were 53 government-sanctioned post stations set up for travelers to rest and purchase supplies. The number of stations was based on the 53 Buddhist saints that Sudhana, a Buddhist acolyte, visited to receive teachings in his quest for enlightenment. Shinagawa was the first station on the route a traveler takes from Edo to Kyoto.

In the 17th and 18th century, its importance grew when travel became more common due to the rule that required feudal lords all over Japan to spend time in Edo, the Shogun's capital.

Growing with its importance was the size of the area. During and after the Edo period, the Shinagawa domain grew substantially through land reclamation.

I was lucky to have hosts living in the area point me to this direction. I wouldn’t have known about this patch of land and, like many other tourists, the ward won’t be on the must-see places. Perhaps the only encounter with Shinagawa would be the transient stop at the station to board the shinkansen to the next destination.

The old Tokaido Avenue is a narrow paved road lined with two-storey structures. Along the promenade are 53 stone markers with the post stations names carved on them.

Like the station that it was in the past, quaint supply shops, restaurants and accommodations are found in the stretch.

By the looks of it, much of the buildings are family residences passed on from one generation to the next.

One store caught my attention. The geta (Japanese traditional footwear) shop still bore the look of its past, which made it quite attractive. The old man who owns it and who personally makes each pair custom-fitted for the clients, said it was passed down through generations. He and his son now run the shop.

The side streets also offered the ward’s interesting past—the oldest homes stand side by side with towering modern edifices and houseboats float on the river.

It was very interesting. Well, the whole country is. This is why I fell in love with Japan.

On your next trip to Tokyo, try to discover the city’s charm off the beaten track. It will make your trip more memorable.

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