October 22, 2012

Where all roads begin

Tokyo, a friend tells me, "terrifies people."  It is immense - 36 million people live in the general neighborhood, 13 million in the city proper.  And it seems center-less - the Ginza, the Imperial Palace, the Financial District are all present, but not focal.  From the Mandarin Oriental in Nihonbashi one sees an almost continuous fabric of 8-12 story buildings, interrupted by occasional apartment towers and radio masts, a sea of high-density post-War construction.

And yet there is a center.  Looking closer, one notices that many of the roads seem to head directly toward the hotel.  That is because the Mandarin stands close to Nihonbashi - the Bridge of Japan, and starting point of the Tōkaidō and Kiso Kaidō roads.

Keisai Eisen, Nihonbashi - First of the Sixty-nine Stages of the Kiso Kaidō

In all there were five primary roads in the Edo period, and they all began here, at this spot.  Bashō must have taken his first steps on The Narrow Road to the Deep North here.  And those who came to this city, whether alone or at the head of a column of retainers, crossed this bridge to enter.

But it is the departures that capture my imagination, the first steps away from the busy and self-absorbed metropolis, away from the secure and familiar, and toward the wild, and the unknown.


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