Arai Checkpoint Sekisho

Arai Sekisho (Barrier Station) 新居関所

Arai Sekisho (barrier station/checkpoint) in the old post town of Arai, west of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, is the only remaining Edo Period checkpoint on the historic Tokaido highway, which ran between Kyoto and Edo (present-day Tokyo) along the Pacific Coast.

Arai checkpoint (sekisho), Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan.
Arai Checkpoint, Arai-juku, Tokaido, Shizuoka

History of Arai Checkpoint

After the Battle of Sekigahara and victory for Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1600, the new Tokugawa shogunate re-established the Gokaido: the five major highway routes that criss-crossed Japan.

These highways were the Tokaido along the Pacific Coast between the imperial capital at Kyoto and the new shogun's base in Edo, the Nakasendo which ran through the mountains of central Japan through the post towns of Ena, Nakatsugawa, Magome & TsumagoKiso-FukushimaNarai and Karuizawa, the Nikko Kaido which ran up to Ieyasu's mausoleum in Nikko, the Koshu Kaido, which ran from Shimo-suwa on the Nakasendo on a route between the Nakasendo and Tokaido and the Oshu Kaido, which ran north to Shirakawa and then up to Sendai.

Each of these roads had post-stations (-juku) where travelers would stay in specially built inns: daimyo (feudal lords), important Tokugawa official and court nobles in the honjin, lesser daimyo and officials in the waki-honjin and other travelers in an assorted of accommodation to suit their purse. A preserved waki-honjin can be seen close to Bentenjima Station, one stop east on the JR Tokaido Line, the lovely Maisaka Shukuwaki-honjin.

Each of these highways also had a couple of barrier stations or check points (seki) where travelers on the Gokaido were forced to stop and present their travel documents - rudimentary internal passports made of wood or later written on paper (tegata). There were various kinds of these passes including "stamps" for women, firearms, prisoners, the insane, corpses and even severed heads!

The Tokugawa regime was on the look-out for guns and women traveling in disguise - a possible sign that the daimyo, who were forced to leave their wives and children in Edo as virtual hostages under the policy of sankin-kotai, were planning some kind of revolt or insurrection. Hence the saying: irideppo to deonna (search for guns coming in to Edo; women going out). Firearms, even a small number of them, could possibly change the balance of power, and were particularly worrisome to the Tokugawa regime.

Arai checkpoint (sekisho), Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan.
Arai Checkpoint, Arai-juku, Tokaido, Shizuoka
Arai checkpoint (sekisho), Shizuoka.
Mannequin in Edo Period garb, Arai Checkpoint, Shizuoka

Very few original barrier stations still survive, though besides the Arai sekisho, there is another in Kiso Fukushima on the Nakasendo, though this is a reconstruction, as is the Hakone sekisho in Hakone near Tokyo. The Arai checkpoint is original.

Arai barrier station was first established in 1600 and was known as Imagire sekisho. It was at first located right on the coast, where it also checked sea traffic, but had to be moved inland to the shores of Lake Hamana (Hamanako) due to damage by earhquakes and tsunami in 1699 and 1707. The checkpoint had a wharf to reach the post town of Maisaka by boat.

At first Arai sekisho was controlled directly by the shogunate but control passed to the Yoshida feudal lords from Mikawa Province in 1702.

In 1854 Arai barrier station was badly damaged in an earthquake and subsequently rebuilt, so the buildings that can be seen today date to the mid-19th century. In 1869, all barrier stations were abolished with the fall of the Tokugawa regime.

The main office, the guest room, the library, the clerk's room and the shita-aratame room still stand. The servants' room, wharf office and the row house to check women have not survived from Edo times.

The inspection process is recreated inside the tatami-mat rooms by mannequins in period dress. Behind the ticket office is a fascinating two-story museum - the Arai Sekisho Museum - which exhibits documents, passports, weapons, clothing and ukiyoe wood block prints relating to the checkpoint.

It is possible to buy a combined ticket to the Arai checkpoint with the nearby Kinokuniya Inn - an Edo Period accommodation and a favorite of the Kishu clan. Kinokuniya Inn has original furniture, scrolls, a kamado oven and a lovely garden. The present building at Kinokuniya Inn dates from the 1870s, though an inn has stood on the site for much longer.

Arai checkpoint (sekisho), Shizuoka, Japan.
Arai Sekisho Museum, Arai Checkpoint, Shizuoka
Arai checkpoint (sekisho), Shizuoka.
Edo Period Wood block print showing an old woman checking the sex of a young samurai, Arai Checkpoint, Shizuoka

Getting to the Arai Checkpoint

Arai Checkpoint
1227-5 Arai
Arai-cho
Hamana-gun
Shizuoka Prefecture
431-0302
Hours: 9am - 5pm (last entry 4.30pm)
Tel: 053 594 3615
Closed: Monday
Admission: Adults 300 yen

Just inside the entrance to the museum is a shop selling ukiyo-e postcards and other souvenirs.

Walk 500m west from Arai-machi Station on the JR Tokaido Line from Hamamatsu or Toyohashi.

The Sakichi Toyoda Memorial House is located not far from the next station west, Washizu, or is a short drive.

Kinokuniya Inn, Shizuoka.
Kinokuniya Inn, Arai, Shizuoka

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