Itinerary: Doin’ the Tokaido on your vacation

So you wanna follow the Tokaido Road, but don’t have a lot of time? Then I hope this suggested course helps you out. Traveling the old Tokaido is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now… Hopefully on one of my next trips to Japan I’ll be able to pull it off. If you’re interested, then I’ll give you the lowdown on how you can use the train to successfully navigate through a path that dates back over 400 years.

So what exactly IS the Tokaido Road? The Tokaido was one of five major routes that spread out from Edo (present-day Tokyo) back in Japan’s period of isolationism. Construction began back in 1601 under the control of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Tokaido, and all of the other routes, were ways for officials and commoners to travel, carry out business and do trade.

The Tokaido Road contained 53 “stations”, or rest areas where lodging, food and entertainment were available. 400 years later, this road would meld into modern society with the construction of roads, conventional trains, and the bullet train. Traveling the Tokaido today will allow you to explore a unique essence… one that can only be discovered along this hallowed path.

Now if you REALLY have the time, as American professor James Baquet did in 2001, you can walk the Tokaido yourself from Tokyo to Kyoto. Baquet did the walk in 35 days, although it is said that back in the day the Japanese took less time to cover that distance. On the other hand, you, the faithful traveller, only have yea number of days worth of vacation in Japan, making a complete walk along the 319-mile path infeasible.

Thankfully, though, there’s the wonderful Japanese train system… punctual and efficient. By train you will have many options, from type of train to duration of trip. You could take the bullet train, but this would destroy the trip for our purposes as the different aspects of Japan will turn into a blur as your train zips along. For us, going “local” is the way to go.

The journey can be as simple as taking the Tokaido Line, which runs close to the route of the old Tokaido between Tokyo and Nagoya, then takes a detour via Maibara on the way to Kyoto. To cover this journey in a single day will require changing trains multiple times. But, despite the fact that people flock to the bullet train, trains on the regular Tokaido Line still operate on a regular schedule and you shouldn’t have to wait long to change trains no matter where you transfer.

As mentioned in a previous article, it is possible to cover the journey in a single day using local trains. This will cost you about 8,000 yen for the one-way trip. Users of the Seishun 18 ticket, at the appropriate time of the year, can see dramatic savings on this journey if traveling together in a group. Here’s an idea for a Monday along the JR Tokaido Line, an eight-train ride assuming a one-hour stop for lunch in Hamamatsu, an important hub in central Japan:

Train 739M: Depart Tokyo 07:02, Arrive Odawara 08:25
Train 741M: Depart Odawara 08:38, Arrive Atami 09:02
Train 1427M: Depart Atami 09:06, Arrive Shizuoka 10:30
Train 757M: Depart Shizuoka 10:43, Arrive Hamamatsu 11:52
Train 951M: Depart Hamamatsu 13:09, Arrive Toyohashi 13:43
Train 2327F: Depart Toyohashi 13:55 (Arrive Nagoya 14:43), Arrive Ogaki 15:16
Train 237F: Depart Ogaki 15:40, Arrive Maibara 16:17
Train 3491M: Depart Maibara 16:19, Arrive Kyoto 17:12 (5:12 PM)
Total Time: 10 hours 10 minutes

You can also opt to be flexible if you wish, and spread this journey out into a few days. How about using the hub stations as starting points for day adventures into Japanese life, culture and attractions?  Why not find a traditional ryokan or two along the way?  If you REALLY wanted as much time on your hands as possible to wander around these areas, then perhaps the bullet train will be to your benefit… KODAMA trains depart twice an hour from all of the Tokaido Shinkansen’s intermediate stations.

As you can tell the possibilities are endless. It all depends on how much time you have and how much you want to absorb yourself.

During my ‘curiosity searching’ I have found that there are other JR lines, as well as private railways, that operate routes closer to the actual Tokaido Road. Here is another sample that I’ve come up with, keeping this in mind. This is a two-day idea with an overnight rest in Nagoya.

The starting point for this trip is the underground Nihombashi station, the closest train stop to the Nihombashi bridge where the Tokaido Road officially begins. The first train departs at the end of the rush hour on the Toei Asakusa Line, and continues on to the Keikyu Line, a private railway.

Toei Asakusa Line and Keikyu Main Line
Train 970H, 970SH: Depart Nihombashi 9:29, Arrive Yokohama 10:06

JR Tokaido Line
Train 775M: Depart Yokohama 10:18, Arrive Atami 11:39
Train 1435M: Depart Atami 11:47, Arrive Numazu 12:07
Train 777M: Depart Numazu 12:19, Arrive Shizuoka 13:12
Train 441M: Depart Shizuoka 14:42, Arrive Hamamatsu 15:32
Train 967M: Depart Hamamatsu 15:46, Arrive Toyohashi 16:19

Meitetsu Main Line (Another private railway)
Train 173 (Rapid Limited Express): Depart Toyohashi 16:32, Arrive Meitetsu Nagoya 17:21


JR Kansai Line
Train 2301M: Depart JR Nagoya 09:03, Arrive Kaneyama 10:03
Train 241D: Depart Kaneyama 10:45, Arrive Tsuge 11:10

JR Kusatsu Line
Train 5353M: Depart Tsuge 11:31, Arrive Kusatsu 12:15

JR Tokaido Line
Train 3455M: Depart Kusatsu 12:24, Arrive Yamashina 12:38

From Yamashina station it’s a short, four-stop ride on the underground Kyoto subway to Sanjo Keihan station (about 10 minutes), a short walk away from the Sanjo-Ohashi bridge… marking the official end of the Tokaido Road.

Fare breakdown:
Toei Asakusa/Keikyu Line, Nihombashi-Yokohama: 510 yen
JR Line, Yokohama-Toyohashi: 4620 yen
Meitetsu Line, Toyohashi-Meitetsu Nagoya: 1430 yen (1080 yen regular fare + 350 yen reserved seat ticket)
JR Line, Nagoya-Yamashina via Tsuge: 2210 yen
Kyoto Subway Tozai Line, Yamashina-Sanjo Keihan: 250 yen
TOTAL: 9020 yen (without the Meitetsu Reserved Seat the cost is 8770 yen)

The disadvantage is that you’ll have to purchase multiple tickets along the way, and the fare is slightly more expensive than just sticking to the Tokaido. On the plus side, you’re closer to the old Tokaido, and there will be more to see, especially on the section between Nagoya and Kusatsu where trains are far and few between.

Once again… many possibilities. It’s all up to you as you plan for your trip. Is a trip along the Tokaido right for you? If not then there are sure to be more “courses” for you to explore in this majestic country!

My sources for the published ideas are Wikipedia, Google Maps, Hyperdia, Ekikara, Tokyo Government and Meitetsu. These ideas are offered for your consideration, subject to the disclaimer (click the ‘disclaimer’ tab at the top). ^_^

One thought on “Itinerary: Doin’ the Tokaido on your vacation

  1. Pingback: The To-Do List for my next Japan trip | Jose's Japan Tips

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