Across the street from a Seven-11 in Takada and around the corner from the Ogawa Kimono Shop is a small shrine and some stone markers. It is the Oiwake intersection of Higashi-hondori. This shrine and the markers are all that reminds us of what historically was an important intersection of major roads in Joetsu.
The Hokurikudo, running parallel to the coast intersected here with the Hokkoku-kaido, the major road going inland, in the direction of Nagano.
The Hokurikudo was part of a wide system of roads (Gokishichido) that was established after the Taika reforms of 645. It connected the imperial capital Kyoto with the capitals of the provinces Echizen, Ettchu and Echigo (corresponding approximately with Fukui, Ishikawa & Toyama, and Niigata). The section running from Takada in the direction of Kanazawa was later referred to as the Kaga-kaido. Sections of this road still exist.
“Hokurikudo” was used interchangeably for the road as well as the region it covered. At that time Japan was divided in two parts, Koshi and Wakasa. Koshi province consisted of Echizen, Ettchu and Echigo. Echigo’s capital during the pre-Tokugawa period was in the Kubiki district – now Joetsu — but its exact location is lost in history.
During the Tokugawa period, Echigo was for a time divided into several domains which were combined again after the Meiji restoration (1868) to form what we now know as Niigata prefecture in 1876 with Niigata city as its capital.
The official end-station of the Hokkoku-kaido was Takada but the road effectively provided a direct connection between the port of Naoetsu — and by extension the island of Sado – via Takada and Ueda with the Kanto region.
The Oiwake intersection of the Hokurikudo and the Hokkoku-kaido reflected the historical importance of these roads. They were heavily travelled by imperial officials and daimyo. During the period of “sankin koutai”, alternating residence, daimyo from the Hokuriku area followed the Hokurikudo and the Hokkoku-kaido to travel annually to Edo. Merchants too used these roads for their trading business. And artists ..… Basho, returning in 1690 from his trip to the Northern part of the country stayed in Takada for 3 days with a doctor named Hosokawa Shunan (細川春庵). These travels resulted in the publication of his famous “Oku no Hosomichi” (奥の細道 – おくのほそ道), The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Travellers needed rest, sustenance and entertainment. An important segment of the local economy in Takada depended on passing travellers. Ryokan, brothels, restaurants, entertainers (including Takada’s traveling blind “goze”), and facilities for changing horses. However, in Takada you will no longer find visible evidence of any form of hospitality business at or around the Oiwake intersection. All history!
The efficiency of modern travel in the form of express-ways and shinkansen has its advantages. However, it does not take much imagination to visualize what historically has been a busy, entertaining and interesting area and to realize that something irreplaceable has been lost.