Usui Checkpoint was built at Usui Pass in present-day Matsuida-cho, Annaka City, Gunma Prefecture as one of the checkpoints, which the second Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada ordered to build on the Nakasendo Road in 1623 to control “Irideppo ni Deonna” (guns coming into Edo and women leaving Edo). It was referred to as one of Three Great Checkpoints in the Edo period. It had functioned as the most important checkpoint on the Nakasendo Road until 1869, when the checkpoint system was abolished.
In 1959, the eastern gate of the checkpoint was restored to its original form after the design by Gaijiro Fujishima, a professor of Tokyo University and Doctor of Engineering. The posts and door boards of the original building were used for the new gate. It is made of zelkova wood, and metal fittings are used to reinforce the structure.
On the second Sunday in May every year, Usui Pass Checkpoint Festival is held, where people come to enjoy listening to Yagibushi song and Japanese drums as well as seeing the local children in the costumes of checkpoint officers.
Minakuchi-juku (presently Koga City in Shiga Prefecture) was the 50th post station of the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1868). Minaguchi had been flourished as a lodging village for the pilgrims to Ise Shrine since the Muromachi period (1336-1573). Then, it developed into a castle town of the Kato clan in the Edo period. Located at the southern foot of Mt. Kojozan, the town was divided into two parts; the area to the east of the stone bridge was a post town with a three-forked road, while the western part was a castle town, where a street bents at a right angle. Minakuchi Castle was also known as “Hekisui (deep blue clear water) Castle,” from its reflecting image on the surface of the water moat. The specialty products of the town are rattan work, tobacco pipes, and a dried gourd shaving, which was depicted in Hiroshige’s “The 53 Post Stations of the Tokaido Road.” The town was so flourished and bustling as to be called “The No.1 place to gather people on the Tokaido Road.” Today, there are several historical spots including the castle ruins and the old street light, which remind you of the town’s prosperity in the old days.
Ishibe-juku was the 51st post station of the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1868). There are several opinions as to the origin of the town. One of them states that 5 nearby villages were consolidated into the town of Ishibe in 1571 under the governance of Oda Nobunaga. Another states that the town was established in 1597 by the order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi to provide couriers and horses for transporting commodities to Zenkoji Temple in present Nagano Prefecture. Still another states that it was established according to a shuinjo (red-seal letter) of 1601 to order every post station of the Tokaido Road to requisition the horsed for official use.
Travelers who left Kyoto usually spent their first night at Ishibe-juku. Located at the interchange point of the Tokaido Road and the Ise Shrine Pilgrimage Road, the town was bustling with a lot of travelers. There was a gold mine (“kin-zan” in Japanese) near the town, and it is said that a Japanese metaphor “Ishibe Kinkichi” meaning a hardheaded person is derived from this place.
Presently, two free rest stations, Ishibejuku-eki and Dengaku-jaya, are provided for the tourists.
Kusatsu-juku in Kusatsu City, Shiga Prefecture was the 52nd of the 68 post stations of the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1868). The town’s history dates back to the Heian period (794-1192), and in the Kamakura period (1192-1333), it had already been considered as an important point of traffic. The town was developed into a post station during the governances of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi. Located at the interchange point of the Nakasendo and Tokaido roads, the post town thrived as the transportation center in the Edo period. The names of the renowned persons such as the members of the Shinsengumi or the masterless warriors of the ex-Ako domain are left in the guest books of inns.
The honjin (the lodging for daimyo and the nobility) standing on the old road is a beautiful building with white clay walls. It was built in 1635 and is a nationally designated Historic Site. It is now open to the public and visitors can see precious historic documents.
The specialty product of Kusatsu-juku, Ubaga-mochi, is a kind of Ohagi, a rice ball covered in bean jam. The famous Ukiyoe artist, Ando Hiroshige, also depicted the shop selling Ubaga-mochi, which was included in his work Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido.
Many people visit Tajima Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Kyushu region, to pray for business success and safe marine traffic. The enshrined are three marine guardian goddesses of Tagiri-himemikoto, Ichikishima-himemikoto, and Takitsu-himemikoto, whom the pirates of the Matsura Tribe and fishermen working around the Genkai Sea asked for help when they were in danger at sea. The ancient record of Matsura Kojiki says that Wakatakeou (Prince Yamatotakeru’s son) was jointly enshrined in 731 during the reign of the emperor Shomu and that Otomo-no-Komaro visited the shrine by Imperial command and bestowed the title of “Tajima Daimyojin (the great shrine).” In the precinct are other must-see sights such as “Sayohime shrine,” which enshrines the princess of Matsura Tribe, the rock that a Mongolian ship used as an anchor, and the “Taiko-seki,” which Hideyoshi used in the contest for strength.
The Ariake Sea is the largest bay surrounded by the prefectures of Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, and Kumamoto. The bay, the deepest point of which is no more than 50 meters deep, is shallow to a considerable distance from the shore. The water depth differs largely by the ebb and tide. The range of a spring tide is over 4 meters. Laver cultivation has developed using this spring range. At low tide emerges the tideland, which is the habitat of rare species that cannot be found anywhere else such as mudskippers, pen shells, warasubo (a species of eel goby), and fiddler crabs. The Ariake Sea has been providing people with food since the ancient times. A lot of shell mounds have been discovered near the coastline, from which clams, arch shells, and fish bones of Japanese seaperch and others were excavated. Living aquatic resources in the Ariake Sea has supported people’s diet.
Mikuni Dansu is a handicraft of Mikuni-machi, Fukui Pref.. It is a solid and
dignified chest coated with red Shunkei lacquer and reinforced with
brilliant black iron. The chest was first made in the late Edo period in the
collaboration of woodcraftsmen, metal workmen, and lacquerers. The town of
Mikuni on Mikuni Bay was once a prosperous port town, where people could get
everything needed for daily life including clothing or food brought in from
Kansai area. The town was also a production place of daily necessities,
which led to encouragement of excellent handicraft skills in this town.
These various ornamental chests with iron hardware forged and worked by hand
have the gloss of lacquer that has not faded for over 100 years. The
beautiful design combined with practicability is the pledge of the pride
taken by the excellent craftsmen having reached the top of their profession.