Walking Back to the Edo Period at Hakone Sekisho
Going inside the gate of Hakone Sekisho, a checkpoint which also operated as a significant transit and communication site for around 250 years during Edo period.
After the collapse of the Kamakura shogunate in 1333, a warlord named Ashikaga Tokauji became a shogun in 1338. The Ashikaga shogunate, Japan’s second shogunate, was called the “Age of the Country at War” but despite the chaos, trade was encouraged and Zen-inspired art started during this period. The government collapsed towards the end of this shogunate, with the local lords called daimyos gaining the loyalty of the samurai. The daimyos got peasants for their armies and became rulers of their respective territories. The last Ashikaga shogun was forced out of office by a local lord named Oda Nobunaga but was assassinated in 1582 and was succeeded by Hideyoshi, his best general. A power struggle ensued after Hideyoshi’s death in 1598 until Tokugawa Ieyasu, another Nobunaga’s general, gained victory in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.
In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu became the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate which was the last shogunate of Japan. He established his headquarters in Edo, which is now called Tokyo. Tokugawa policies brought a period of peace and vitality in arts and commerce. Literacy rate grew, merchants and artisans prospered. However, the farmers became poorer due to heavy taxes and the daimyos and samurais had financial problems as well. To help the displaced samurais, the shoguns encouraged education and for them to venture into other fields. Given all the peace and prosperity, Tokugawa shogunate still feared rebellion. To ensure the stability and survival of its power, tight control measures were implemented. Japan was isolated from foreign influence for 200 years and the daimyos, with their families, were required to live in Edo for one year after which, they were replaced by another batch of daimyos. The daimyos had to leave their families in Edo as hostages, preventing them from rebellion while in their homelands.
This accounts for the 53 Sekisho (checkpoints) placed by the Tokugawa shogunate throughout Japan. They had to control arms entering Edo and keep the daimyo’s wives from escaping. Hakone Sekisho, which was built in 1619, was the biggest and most important of all the 53 checkpoints. This was dismantled during the end of the rule of the Tokugawa shoguns. In 1868, after ruling Japan for almost 265 years, the Tokugawa shogunate ended due to heavy political pressure, and the power of Emperor Meiji was restored.
A detailed report of the dismantling, as well as the building structures, were discovered in 1983. An excavation started in 1999 until 2001. After three years of construction, Hakone Sekisho had finally been restored to its original form and was opened to the public in the spring of 2007.
Hakone Shesiko is open daily from 9am to 5pm. For more info, please go to http://www.hakonesekisyo.jp/