Ōyama Kaidō: From Akasaka to the Tama River

The remains of the gate to Edo Castle in Akasaka

The starting point of the Ōyama Kaidō, the old Akasaka gate of Edo Castle

For my birthday last year, my sister bought me a book describing the course of the ÅŒyama Kaidō, with directions for walking it. The ÅŒyama Kaidō was one of the Edo-period roads of Japan (the Edo period is 1603-1868; the time when the Tokugawa shoguns ruled Japan from Edo, the city that later became Tokyo), and led from Edo to ÅŒyama, a mountain in what is now Kanagawa prefecture. ÅŒyama was a pilgrimage centre, hosting a shugendo temple complex, but the road was also used for trade. It was, however, a relatively minor road, certainly compared to such famous routes as the Tōkaidō or Nakasendō, both of which ran from Edo to Kyoto, the former along the coast and the latter through the mountains. (“Tōkaidō” means “east sea road” and “Nakasendō” means “middle mountains road”.) However, I decided that I wanted to walk along the ÅŒyama Kaidō for two reasons. First, it’s relatively short, making the goal practical. I expect to be able to do it this year. Second, it runs very close to our home; it’s our local historic road.

Aoyama streetscape

A view of the Ōyama Kaidō in Aoyama

So, on Monday, when I had a day off, I started the walk. The road starts in central Tokyo, at one of the old gates to Edo Castle, the Akasaka gate. From there, it heads west, and for most of the distance the modern 246 main road follows the old ÅŒyama Kaidō route. This means that the first part of the walk, at least, is very urban, and not overly blessed with clean air. However, it is still interesting to see different areas of Tokyo. Another point of interest for me is that the Den’entoshi line and Hanzōmon line, the train lines I use to get into Tokyo most of the time, also stick close to the route of the ÅŒyama Kaidō, albeit underground in this section. Thus, I got to see what the bits of Tokyo above the line look like. Having gone under all of these areas countless times, it was nice to finally see them above ground.

Along the way, I passed a fair number of Shinto shrines, and went into most of them. However, I want to give each shrine its own article, so this article will concentrate on the road.

Shibuya streetscape

The Ōyama Kaidō in Shibuya, on Dōgenzaka

The first part, from Akasaka to, roughly, Omotesandō, was quite open, with a lot of modern buildings lining the road, and even parks. This is still, I believe, quite an expensive area of Tokyo, with high-class shops. From Omotesandō, however, you are approaching Shibuya, where the buildings are much more crammed together and chaotic, with a much wider variety of shops. I took a small detour in Shibuya, to pick up the deposit on the kimono I rented for last year’s tea ceremony, and found that it took me through Shibuya’s red light district. Given that the area is just off an old road, it could have a longer tradition as such than you might think.

Sangenjaya streetscape

The Ōyama Kaidō at Sangenjaya, where I stopped for lunch

The main road continues to follow the ÅŒyama Kaidō for a while from that point, and elevated expressways follow the same route, so that there are three layers of road for quite a long distance. This makes the street quite dark, so the route recommended in the book dodges off the main road wherever the ÅŒyama Kaidō seems to have taken a slightly different route. Unfortunately, even this isn’t very much. The mid-point of the walk came around here, so I stopped at Sangenjaya, which is also one of the stops for the express trains, to have lunch.

Seta Streetscape

The view from the footbridge where the Ōyama Kaidō crosses over the main roads

Some way beyond Sangenjaya, at Komazawa University, the Ōyama Kaidō finally breaks away from the route of the main road, and things get a lot quieter. The area becomes residential, and almost suburban, with much lower buildings and even a street dedicated to a very famous anime series (Sazae-san), because the creator lived in that area. The route of the Ōyama Kaidō crosses the main road again, but then plunges back into residential areas, and quiet backstreets that barely seem urban, as it approaches the Tama River, the current border of Tokyo prefecture.

In the Edo period, there was no bridge, and the river was crossed by ferry. According to the book, there was a marker stone at the site of the ferry, but I couldn’t find it; there is a lot of development going on by the river at the moment, so the map and directions were not as useful as they should be. It may, in fact, have been removed, because the river itself is having flood-prevention work done.

I set off walking at about 10am, and arrived at the river shortly after 4pm. My legs were getting quite tired by that point; in the whole day, I think I walked over 25km. Fortunately, my legs didn’t feel too bad the next day, so I think I’ll be able to cope with the following segments of the road. I hope to walk the next section next month.

The Tama River

The Tama River

Posted in Ōyama Kaidō.

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