Historical Fujisawa – the often overlooked Tokaido Post Town

Fujisawa, about an hour by train from central Tokyo, has a long history as a traveller’s way station, including during the 250 years that the Tokaido was the major coastal road for travellers between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo).  Even before the Tokugawa shogunate, Fujisawa was popular with travelers bound for Enoshima and Oyama, popular pilgrimage spots for centuries.  Even for many travelers today those are still the popular destinations that bring them through Fujisawa, although many don’t bother to check out Fujisawa itself.

For history buffs, I can recommend spending a day exploring Fujisawa-juku, the Tokaido Post Town.  The original route of the Tokaido remains, in the “honmachi” neighborhood north of Fujisawa station.  Even though the route is now lined with more modern buildings, a number of interesting landmarks of the Tokaido can still be found.  To get more of a feel of what it looked like in its hey day, finish your day with a visit to the Fujisawa Ukiyoe Museum, which currently has a special exhibit of Hiroshige prints from the Meiji and Edo periods.

Start from Fujisawa Honmachi Station on the Odakyu train line (one stop from JR Fujisawa Station).  Follow the tracks a couple dozen meters back toward Fujisawa to reach Route 43, which follows the route of the old Tokaido.  At this point you’re very near the western limit of Fujisawa-juku, a checkpoint known as Kyo Mitsuke that no longer exists.  Instead of dwelling on what isn’t there, turn left and walk toward Edo/Tokyo.

Fujisawa is the sixth post town from Nihonbashi, where all journeys on the Tokaido are said to begin and end.  Notwithstanding its popularity as a crossroads for religious pilgrims as well as traders, it was never as a large as Odawara to the southwest or Kanagawa to the northeast, reporting just 45 inns and a population of just over 4,000 in the 1840s.

Nonetheless, Fujisawa has its own legendary history, as you discover at your first destination, Yoshitsune Kubiari-do, the well where Minamoto Yoshitsune’s head was washed.  About 20 meters after crossing at the first traffic light, you’ll see a koban/police box on your left.  Improbably, what you want is down the little lane just to the right of the police box as you’re facing it.  There is a sign pointing out the lane, but only in Japanese.

Yoshitsune was the younger half-brother of the great shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199).  There are various legends about his life and his death, and one of them holds that after Yoshitsune (1159-1189) was assassinated on his older brother’s orders, his head was thrown into the sea.  When the head came ashore not far from this spot, a local villager found it and brought here to be washed.

Subsequently, Yoshitsune’s spirit was enshrined at nearby Shirahata Shrine.  Shirahata means “white flag”, which was the banner of the Minamoto clan in those times.  To get there, return to the traffic light intersection you just crossed and turn right.  The shrine is on the right, about 300 meters up the road.

When you’ve finished, walk back down to the Tokaido, cross it, turn left and keep going.  The road for the next 800 meters is the original route of the Tokaido passing through Fujisawa-juku.  Of course, none of the 19th century buildings are still standing, but you will pass by a couple of very pretty small temples along the way.

You’ll also see a few old-style buildings to give you a taste of what architecture was like in the heyday of the Tokaido.

One particularly interesting feature, though, is the displays on transformer boxes on the curbs.  These include old maps, drawings and photographs to allow visitors to visualize what was once here and appreciate how it has changed.  What a great way to utilize something that would otherwise be an eyesore!

Cross the Tokaido again around where you can see a Kumon school and a matsuri goods store (lots of paper lanterns hanging out front).  Just a little further down the road, is a small display where a torii shrine gate once stood, the so-called “first gate” to the shrine at Enoshima, about 4 kilometers from this spot.  The Tokaido bends to the left at the intersection ahead of you, while continuing straight leads past Fujisawa Station and on to Enoshima.

For now, don’t take either of those roads.  Instead, return to cross the red bridge.  This road is the approach to Shojoko-ji temple (also known as Yugyo-ji).  This Pure Land Buddhist sect temple was founded in the 13th century.  The expansive grounds and the massive main temple invite one to linger and enjoy.  Entering the main temple sanctuary is permitted (please take off your shoes and otherwise be quiet and respectful).  There is a small museum, but it is only open on week-ends.

Back near the red bridge, you’ll find the Fujisawa Post Station Exchange Center, a small public rest house with displays about Fujisawa-juku, include a great diorama, a display on mercantile signs, and samples of footwear worn by travellers.  There is even a sample of the kinds of public notice boards common in those days just outside.

Rather than re-crossing the red bridge, take the laneway in front of the exchange center to reach the Tokaido again.  Just over the rise to your left is a marker commemorating where a milestone once stood, marking 12 ri (approx. 48 kilometers) from Nihonbashi (probably not worth walking up to, unless you are a real die-hard!).

However, if you cross the Tokaido, Suwa Shrine and Kannou-in Temple are both pretty green spots.  Just below Suwa Shrine, which is situated on a small hill, is the approximate site of the Edo Mitsuke checkpoint, marking the boundary of Fujisawa-juku.  Kannou-in has a most interesting small sub-building, standing on a single pillar.  There was no one available to ask when I visited, but I suspect that this is a rinzo, a rotating structure housing sutras.

Head back to the large intersection and take the road heading toward Enoshima Shrine.  After about 400 meters, on the righthand side you’ll see another stone marker, a 17th century signpost marking the road to Enoshima shrine.  It is said there are at least 10 of these along this route.  From here, take the smaller road leading to the right, which will take you to Fujisawa Station.

At Fujisawa Station, take the JR train one stop to Tsujido station to reach the Fujisawa Ukiyoe Museum (a five minute walk due north from the station) on the 7th floor of Cocco Terrace Shonan.  Ukiyoe are woodblock prints depicting contemporary scenes of life in the 19th century.  Both the colors and the artistry are amazing.  But equally interesting are the insights these works provide into the lives of the people living in those times.

The museum is open 10:00 am to 7:00 pm (closed Mondays) and is free of charge.  Its three main galleries feature the famed prints of the 53 stations of the Tokaido, prints of Fujisawa-juku and prints of Enoshima, with annotations in both Japanese and English.  It also has special exhibitions; now through July 15, the works of the three artists who took the name Hiroshige.  There is also a small library/research area and displays on tools used and steps followed to produce a print, as well as samples of print board games that were popular in the 19th and even 20th centuries.

I hope you have enjoyed this day of walking, history and art.

© 2019 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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