A Japanese highway stands for one of the most developed road systems in the world. Japanese innovations in the road communication have no boundaries and from the very beginning of the Japanese highway building, Japanese engineers constantly seek new technologies and ideas for improving highway safety and ride comfort. How did all that begin?
In the seventeenth century, each highway was organized along principles that the Chinese used to regulate their highways in the imperial times. The engineers carefully laid out the route, determined the width of the highway and designated villages at convenient intervals along the way as post-towns, which were responsible for the functioning of the highway in the area and for providing food and accommodation for official travelers.
In a short period, the Japanese road communication system accepted additional responsibilities; it came into usage of unofficial travelers and transport agencies that began to transport people, information and goods.
In the second half of the Edo period, pilgrimage became extremely popular. Although a travel for the sake of travel was not allowed, a religious travel was permitted. Soon, the economy grew vigorously, giving people enough money and leisure to travel and there appeared thousands of pilgrims on the highways.
Certainly, not everyone could afford traveling; thus, the government hired literary figures and artists to write about or reflect the travel in picture. Soon, travel literature became popular around the country, while Hiroshige and other famous woodblock print artists were commissioned to document their own travels in print. Hiroshige became famous in this genre for his series "53 Stations of the Tokaido".
The artist, named Eisen, was commissioned to commemorate the Nakasendo highway in woodblock prints. Due to the bankruptcy and a fire in Edo (perhaps for the insurance money), Eisen absconded, leaving the project incomplete. Hiroshige was asked to finish the Nakasendo prints. The series "69 Stations of the Nakasendo" appeared to document each of the highway's sixty seven post-towns, plus Kyoto and Edo. Many of these prints reflect common scenes in the post-towns, while the others portray famous points along the route.
Today, the Tokaido highway is overlaid with modern highways and train lines so that that only a few stretches of the old road can be identified, while the Nakasendo runs practically untouched by modern impacts through areas of Japan that have been less transformed by the economic growth and change. Thus, long stretches of the highway remain much the same now as two hundred years ago.
In general, Japan has over a million kms of highways with eight hundred and sixty three thousand kms paved and nearly three hundred thousand kms of unpaved ways nowadays. A single network of high-speed roads connects the major cities on Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Hokkaido and Okinawa Island have separate networks. The highway in Japan is a very developed network with various routes and destinations; hence, buses often go where trains do not, and the highway can be the only way for you to get to some remote locations of Japan. In addition, traveling inside Japan by bus is a cheaper option than, for instance, traveling by train.