A man taking notes in a temple grounds.

Tōkaidō – Walking Arimatsu to Atsuta Shrine

Photo above – A man sketching or taking notes at Kasadera Kannon (笠覆寺多宝塔) on the Tōkaidō.


With Japan under another state of emergency and residents being asked to stay closer to home and within the prefecture, walking the Kiso-ji (木曽路), Ise-ji (伊勢路), and some sections of the Nakasendō (中山道), now would be selfish. But one of the benefits of living slap-bang in the middle of Japan is that parts of the Tōkaidō (東海道) are within easy reach. In fact 15kms or so to the south of home and well within Aichi Prefecture is a section that runs from Arimatsu to Atsuta Grand Shrine.

So once again inspired and with a morning to spare, I packed a small day pack, my camera, a flask of tea, and a small map and hopped on the train to Arimatsu (有松), southeast of Nagoya to walk a modest 12kms or so along the old Tōkaidō (旧東海道), passing through the post town of Narumi (鳴海) on the way, and finishing at Atsuta Grand Shrine (熱田神宮).

Arimatsu on the Tōkaidō.
Walking the Tōkaidō.

It’s almost impossible to live in Japan and not know of the Tōkaidō, both the Shinkansen and the main highway between Tokyo and Nagoya follow it, and it was where Andō Hiroshige produced some of his famous woodblock prints (浮世絵). Starting at kilometre zero on Nihonbashi (日本橋) in central Tokyo, the Tōkaidō roughly follows Japan’s Pacific coast to Sanjōbashi (三条橋) in Kyoto.

This small section of the route surprised me. It has always been a challenge in Nagoya to uncover relics of its long history after being flattened during the Second World War, and I was expecting there to be little remains of the Tōkaidō. It felt good to be proven wrong. Signs and clues to the old route were clearly visible, with the most prominent being the scattering of pine trees, lanterns marking the entrances to certain sections, and ichirizuka (一里塚・milestone markers). It was well signposted and easy to follow with only the occasional need to consult the paper map I brought with me. Paper maps, remember them?

I used Jinriki — a wonderful Japanese website with detailed routes of the Tōkaidō and other routes — as a reference before leaving home, but tried my hardest to avoid using my smartphone for anything other than recording GPS coordinates for the photos once the walk had started.

When I let my imagination wander — easy to do if you actually leave your smartphone in your bag — uncovering areas of the city I had never explored felt like bridging history and following in the footsteps of ancient shogunate and traders, despite the onslaught of modern life everywhere.*

Walking the Tōkaidō. Finishing at Atsuta Grand Shrine.

Continuing from where I left off will be a breeze, and as with the Kiso-ji, Ise-ji, and Nakasendō, walking the route one step at a time is something I’ve really started looking forward to.


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* To a certain extent I guess I was.

**Many reasons.

Lived in central Japan since 2001 and spend free days exploring.

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