Nakasen-do Road (中山道)

Nakasen-do Road (中山道) was one of the Go-kaido Road (the five major roads) of the Edo Period which ran through the interior of the central Honshu area. It is also written as中仙道 in kanji.


Nakasen-do Road was the major route after Tokai-do Road. It runs from Nihonbashi (Chuo Ward, Tokyo) in Edo to Kusatsu-juku.

Nakasen-do Road merges with Tokai-do Road at Kusatsu-juku. There were 507km and 67 stations between Edo and Kusatsu. In terms of the present prefectures, Nakasen-do Road goes through Tokyo, Saitama, Gunma, Nagano, Gifu and Shiga.

The current national highways equivalent to Nakasen-do Road
Route 17: Tokyo Special Ward – Takasaki City
Route 18: Takasaki City – Karuisawa-cho
Route 142: Saku City - Shimosuwa-machi
Route 20: Shimosuwa-machi – Shiojiri City
Route 19: Shiojiri City – Ena City
Route 21: Mitake-cho - Maibara City
Route 8: Maibara City - Ritto City
Route 1: Ritto City – Kusatsu City

The Ritsuryo System
During the Ritsuryo Era in Japan, the land was divided into various regions with the Kinai region (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto) being the center of the country. Tosan-do Road was consequently developed to stretch from the Kinai region to the eastern inland area.

Sengoku Period (period of warring states in Japan)
During the Sengoku Period, the areas along Tosan-do Road were power base of various feudal lords such as theTakeda clan (Kai Province), the Ogasawara clan (Shinano Province), the Kanamori clan (Hida Province) and the Oda clan (Mino Province). The communication route connecting Tosan-do Road and Tokai-do Road were hence developed by the concerned parties including the troops of the Takeda clan and the Oda clan. The present national highways 52, 151 and 22 were originally part of this communication route.

In 1600, the troops led by Hidetada TOKUGAWA traveled on Nakasen-do Road from Utsunomiya City to participate in the Battle of Sekigahara. On that occasion, Hidetada was held up at Ueda-jo Castle which was successfully defended by Masayuki SANADA and, as a result, fell from grace by arriving late at Sekigahara for the battle.

Edo Period
With the dawning of the Edo Period, the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) completed the development of Nakasen-do Road along with the other five highways in seven years from the commencement of the project in 1601. During this project, there were many areas where improvements were made to the existing highways but there were some roads (such as the route between Oi-juku (Ena City, Gifu Prefecture) and Mitake-juku (Mitake-cho, Kani-gun, Gifu Prefecture)) that were newly developed.

In ancient days, Nakasen-do Road was referred to as mountain pass or Tosan-do Road and, during the Edo Period, it was written as 中山道 or 中仙道 but, in 1716, it was standardized to 中山道 as per the instruction of the Edo bakufu.

Sekisho (checkpoint) was installed at 3 locations including Usui-toge Pass in Kozuke Province (Annaka City, Gunma Prefecture), Fukushima-juku (Kiso-machi, Kiso Gun, Nagano Prefecture) and Niekawa-juku (Shiojiri City, Nagano Prefecture) in Shinano Province.

Meiji Era and Later
Since the mid-Meiji Era, due to the advancement of railway system, Nakasen-do Road as a highway connecting Tokyo and Kyoto began its gradual decline. Some segments of Nakasen-do Road, however, remained important highways such as the 'route between Tokyo and Niigata (Tokyo – Takasaki)' and 'route between Owari and Kiso (Nagoya – Nagano)'.

Nakasen-do Main Line
In 1869, the Meiji Government announced a construction project for the railroad between Tokyo and Kyoto. The Meiji Government had a plan to construct a railroad which would play a central role in building the country by connecting east and west. The decision process to select the route, however, became locked in a long stalemate between the two proposals: the Tokai-do route and Nakasen-do route. In the meantime, the private railroad company Nippon Railway was proceeding with construction along Nakasen-do.

On July 28, 1833, some lines such as the service between Ueno Station and Kumagaya Station began their operation. The line between Ueno and Takasaki stations was opened in the following 1884. In December of that year, having reached the decision to construct the east-west main line along the Nakasen-do corridor, the government issued the Nakasen-do Railroad Development Bond.

It is said that this decision was made based on the various factors such as that the Tokai-do route would put the railway in unfavorable competition against the already developed and cheaper marine transport, whereas, building the railway along the mountains could lead to a plan for the new regional development in those areas. According to one account, the Nakasen-do route was selected based on the argument put forward by Aritomo YAMAGATA of the Imperial Japanese Army in 1883 that the railroad had to be built along the mountains out of concern for the vulnerability of the railway lines built along the coast against the enemy attack from the sea in wartime. However, it is considered that, based on the circumstances surrounding the inevitable competition against marine transport as mentioned earlier, the Railway Bureau of Kobusho (the Ministry of Industry) having jurisdiction over the Japanese National Railways in those days had, in fact, already decided on this route prior to Yamagata's argument.

Additionally, with the railway going through Gunma and Nagano prefectures, the production areas of silk which was one of Japan's major exports in those days, it was expected that the Nakasen-do route could play a key role in industrial development of the country. It was also envisaged that a number of branch lines (including the lines between Karuizawa and Naoetsu, Gifu and Taketoyo in addition to Maibara and Tsuruga) be installed to develop areas outside the east-west main line corridor.

The Japanese National Railways moved ahead with construction of the Nakasen-do Main Line and the related branch lines (to transport materials) according to the foregoing decision.
Opening date of the various lines during this period has been listed as follows:

March 10, 1882, the segments of the branch line between Nagahama Station and Yanagase and between Todoguchi (as temporarily called) (later renamed to Todonishiguchi) and Kanegasaki (the present Tsugaminato Station) were opened. April 16, 1884, the segment of the branch line between Yanagase and Todonishiguchi (temporarily named) was opened. May 25, 1884, the segment of the branch line between Ogaki Station and Nagahama (part of which became discontinued when the entire Tokaido Line was opened) was opened. October 15, 1885, the segment of the main line between Takasaki and Yokokawa (Gunma Prefecture) was opened. March 1, 1886, the segment of the branch line connecting Taketoyo Station and Atsuta Station with a stop at Obu Station was opened. April 25, 1886, the segment of the branch line connecting Atsuta and Ogaki Station (which ran between Taketoyo and Kanegasaki with a stop at Tsuruga) was opened. July 19, 1886, the Meiji Government decided to change the east-west main line route to that ran along Tokai-do Road.

In fact, survey began and construction started in some areas but mountainous terrains such as Usui-toge Pass presented more serious challenge than anticipated thereby various setbacks such as work delays, cost overrun and transport capacity restriction after the opening became inevitable. With the intensifying industrial revolution and tense international affairs, early completion of the East-West Main Line and increased carrying capacity became necessary. As the main line did not go through Nagoya, the mayor of that major city became concerned about the possibility of its eventual decline without access to the railroad service thereby starting to work with the government to change the route to the Tokai-do plan.

The main line was consequently changed to the Tokai-do route where the terrain was relatively flat for the most part making it possible to complete the construction quickly even with the level of technology of the time, and the work immediately got underway to finish the project in time for the inauguration of the Imperial Diet in 1890.

July 1, 1889, the entire length of the Tokaido Main Line between Shimbashi (which subsequently became referred to as Shiodome) and Kobe Station (Hyogo Prefecture) was open.

Of the railway segments constructed as part of the Nakasen-do Main Line, the line connecting Ogaki and Kyoto via Kusatsu which made up the western part of the Nakasen-do route and the branch line connecting Obu and Ogaki were incorporated into the Tokai-do Line. Of the branch lines, the line between Taketoyo and Obu became a branch line of the Tokai-do Line which subsequently became the Taketoyo Line in 1909.

November 25, 1890, the inaugural Imperial Diet (the first session) was convened.

After the opening of the Tokai-do Line
The coming of the Tokai-do Line thereafter had a significant impact on the role of Nakasen-do Road. Since Nagoya City was designated as the center of regional administration based on the centralized administrative framework as established during the Meiji Restoration, a spokewheel transportation network was developed with that city being its hub thereby breaking down the sense of camaraderie among fellow municipalities in the interior or on the coast.

Along the Nakasen-do corridor to the west of Kano-juku (Kano, Gifu City), the Tokai-do Line was newly constructed replacing the original Tokai-do Road which crossed over the Suzuka mountain range in Mie Prefecture on the Pacific coast. After World War II, in addition, the Meishin Expressway and Tokaido Shinkansen were built along the Nakasen-do corridor to the west of Gifu to play the key role in connecting east and west.

Various railway lines such as Takayama Line, Taita Line, Chuo Main Line, Shinetsu Main Line and Takasaki Line have been built along the Nakasen-do route to the east of Gifu Station. Nevertheless, none of these railway lines served the purpose as arterial railroad connecting east and west, and, rather, they functioned as south-north network lines or as secondary lines of the east-west main lines, connecting cities and rural communities within various regions such as the Pacific coastal areas (Kanto and Tokai Regions), interiors (Koshin Region) and the Japan Sea coastal areas (Hokuriku Region).

With respect to the area between Iwamurada-shuku and Shimosuwwa-juku straddling Wada-toge Pass (Nagano Prefecture), no railway was built to run parallel to Nakasen-do Road. Since then, the Koshu Highway has been the main line for the interior corridor between Tokyo and Shimosuwa-machi and not the Nakasen-do route (via Takasaki City), whereas, the latter has been the mainstream for the area to the west of Shimosuwa.

The plan to construct the main artery connecting Kanto and Kinki regions along Nakasen-do Road and not Tokai-do Road, however, resurfaced as the National Highway Development Project after the 1950's. The Chuo Expressway was, for the most part, built along the Koshu Highway and runs parallel to Nakasen-do Road in Tono region of Gifu Prefecture. It formally includes Meishin Expressway (which is legally referred to as the Chuo Expressway Nishinomiya Line) which runs parallel to Nakasen-do Road being the main east-west artery to connect Tokyo and Nishinomiya City. The Nakasen-do corridor is visualized as the master plan for the new main line route to be built to connect Tokyo and Osaka. Chuo Shinkansen which will play a role as a bypass for Tokaido Shinkansen is scheduled to be built along the Koshu Highway and Nakasen-do Road in interiors as well.

Historical Heritage

Unlike areas along Tokai-do Road that went through a rapid transfiguration due to various factors such as the post-Meiji fast economic growth and air raids during World War II, the pre-Edo period highways and post-station towns have relatively been well preserved in areas along Nakasen-do Road. After the high economic growth period, a movement to actively preserve these old highways and post station towns intensified.

Tsumago-juku (designated in 1976) and Narai-juku (designated in 1978) in Nagano Prefecture that have been designated among the Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings are particularly well known. Additionally, each of the former post station towns has developed its own historic museum and other related tourist attractions.

At Torii-toge Pass (Nagano Prefecture) situated between Narai-juku and Yabuhara-juku, dividing the Japan Sea (the Shinano River System) from the Pacific Ocean (the Kiso River System) and Magome-toge Pass located between Tsumago-juku and Magome-juku, maintenance work is currently underway to turn the pathes into nature trails.

It is said that approximately 30 daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) used Nakasen-do Road to travel under the Sankinkotai system (a system under which feudal lords in the Edo period were required to spend every other year in residence in Edo). Kaga Domain which had the largest territory among daimyo had its kamiyashiki (daimyo's regular residence) in Edo in the Hongo area (Bunkyo Ward) on Nakasen-do Road and its shimoyashiki (daimyo's suburban residence) in Itabashi-juku. The property of the Kaga Domain's kamiyashiki in Edo subsequently turned into the campus of Tokyo University since the Meiji Era. The present Hongo Campus of Tokyo University consequently is facing Route 17. Additionally, Akamon (the Red Gate) of the main residence of Kanazawa Domain in Edo which stands facing the old Nakasen-do Road has been preserved and on display as an Important Cultural Property.

Nakasen-do Road has been used as a background for various literary works. The Magome native Toson SHIMAZAKI wrote the historical fiction Yoake-mae (Before the Dawn) with his home town being its background. Monuments such as the Toson Memorial Museum have been built in the present Magome-juku.

[Original Japanese]