Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Sugar Road I

When I mentioned a few posts back that I fancied doing a ramble around Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands, I had no idea that Kyushu had a number of old walking routes which, like the go-kaido (five routes) on the main island of Honshu, were developed during the Edo period (1603-1868). In fact one of these routes, the Nagasaki Kaido, which links the port cities of Nagasaki and Kokura, is one of the most famous of these waki-kaido, or sub-routes.

Like the go-kaido, the waki-kaido were established by the Tokugawa shogunate to improve communications around the country, and were later used by feudal lords during their regular trips to the capital of Edo (now Tokyo), a requirement under the sankin kotai (alternate attendance) system, which was in force from 1635 to 1862. This system also applied to the Dutch traders based on the tiny artificial island of Dejima in Nagasaki, which was one of only a handful of Japanese ports open to the outside world during Japan's two centuries of seclusion in the Edo period. The head of the Dutch East India Company was required to make the journey to Edo yearly between 1660 and 1790 and once every four years after that.


For the Japanese, this association with the Dutch traders lent the Nagasaki Kaido an exoticism that set it apart from the other routes. Even today, covers of guidebooks for the Nagasaki Kaido feature exotic animals such as elephants and camels. This exoticism is also reflected in the nickname given to the Nagasaki Kaido: The Sugar Road.

The nickname derives from the fact that imported sugar was an extremely rare and highly prized commodity in the Edo period. It was imported into Japan by the Dutch in Nagasaki, who took it with them when they traveled along the Nagasaki Kaido to present to the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo. The availability of sugar also explains its use in many popular dishes in and around Nagasaki, although the most well-known of these delicacies, Castella, was actually introduced by the Portuguese, who established Nagasaki as a port in the 16th century and occupied Dejima from the time of its construction in 1634 until their expulsion from Japan in 1639 as part of the crackdown on Catholics in the wake of the Shimabara Rebellion. Two years later the Dutch, who were anti-Catholic, were forced to move to Dejima from their base on the island of Hirado about a hundred kilometres to the north.

Incidentally, the port city of Kokura, which is now part of Kitakyushu city, was the primary target for the second atom bomb which was dropped on Japan on 9 August 1945. Bad weather over Kokura forced the pilot to head to the secondary target, Nagasaki.

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