Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Travels with Edo Pop

Visiting the huge Edo Pop exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art was enlightening for more than artistic reasons, although well worth it that way, too.

Edo Pop exhibit
I loved this statement from one of the rooms' explanatory panels:

During the early decades of the Edo period (1615 - 1868), travel in Japan was dangerous and arduous. However, the shogun's requirement that feudal lords spend half their time at his court in the city of Edo [Tokyo] led to roadway improvements and the establishment of checkpoints and relay stations. Towns grew around stations, with inns, restaurants, souvenir shops, and local guides catering to travelers.

Commoners evaded government restrictions on travel by claiming the need to undertake religious pilgrimages to distant temples and shrines. But in fact, these trips became pleasure outings allowing travelers to experience firsthand the scenic beauty of places long lauded in literature and to partake of strange cuisines, puzzle over regional dialects, and marvel at local legends and beliefs.
The point about road and infrastructure building arising from the nobility's need to travel to court made me think of Steven Pinker's points about the effect of court life on decreasing violence. The unintended consequences of the travel requirement led not just to roads, but to cities, tourism, and, I'm sure, increased trade.

And the second point about tourists pretending to be pilgrims made me laugh. Humans are so clever and adaptable! I wonder if that's what the Wife of Bath was up to?

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