For the rest of the world all roads might lead to Rome, but in Japan all roads lead to Nihonbashi. Just as the Milliarium Aureum (Golden Milestone) delineated the point from which all distances were measured in the Roman Empire, there is a monument to one side of Nihonbashi Bridge that marks the “zero kilometer” equivalent for Japan. Beginning in the Edo Period (1603-1868) the famously well-maintained and extensive highway system, the Gokaido, spread out from Nihonbashi to facilitate travel across Japan. As a result, Edo (now Tokyo) became a cultural — and culinary — melting pot, and Nihonbashi, as a mixed-use district of entertainment, finance and trade, was quite literally at its center. For good reason, it was known as the “kitchen of Edo.”

There were additional practical and political reasons why the Tokugawa Shogunate put so much effort into maintaining these five great highways. Every other year, daimyo were required to travel in great style (and great expense) from their home provinces to Edo, in a system known as sankin kōtai. The daimyo had to maintain households befitting their station within the capital city and their families and retainers were required to live there when the daimyo was not present, effectively acting as hostages to protect the capital from provincial rebellion. With the daimyo came goods from across the country, imported to support the voracious appetites of the megacity’s 1.2 million people.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.