I love "road books" -- novels whose plot mostly rest on a pair, or a troupe of travelers making their way down some famous road. Adventures abound, stories are shared, and the journey becomes way more important than the final destination. One of my favorites, which I have picked up again after many years, is the early19th century novel, Hizakurige by Ikku Jippensha. The title, a word for "journeying by foot" has been translated into the English version: Shank's Mare -- our own wonderful expression of the same. The book is now sadly out of print -- but it appears that there are available used copies of the book at an affordable price at Amazon. I have linked the title and the book cover to the listing on Amazon.
The novel is hilarious, bawdy, and outrageous as it follows the mis-adventures of two lower class workers, on a trip (ala shank's mare) along the great Tokaido Road between the capital city of Edo and the temple-filled Kyoto. Yaji and Kita manage to embroiled themselves in all kinds of lusty and disreputable doings as they rest at inns, and way stations along their way. They are not alone of course -- for the road is peopled with tradesmen, samurai, "lively dancing girls," itinerant actors, and scheming matrons -- all who are grist for the pair's irrepressible appetite for trouble. Who knew travel could be such an endless source of fun, trickery, one night stands, good food, bad booze, and in general absurd observations about life from two brash, madcap punsters looking for a good time.
In the illustration below, Kita and Yaji have stopped at Hokwo Temple to ogle at huge statue of Rushana in a sitting position. After making a few inappropriate comments about the august figure ("And he's got whayoumaycallems as big a badger") the pair discover that pilgrims are engaging in a fun game with the substantial beams used to support the roof. They squeeze themselves through cut openings near the bottom of the beams. Kita has no trouble -- but when the plumper Yaji wriggles in, he discovers he is quite stuck. What follows is a fast, comical dialog with every country pilgrim making outlandish and perilous suggestions as to how to get Yaji free.
The author Ikku Jippensha wrote the novel first as a serial and it was wildly popular throughout Japan in the early 19th century. Later, the whole series was published as a book that included wonderful illustrations -- some of which (like the one above)have been reproduced in the English edition published by Tuttle and translated very ably by Thomas Satchell (which is saying a lot as the puns themselves are a translator's nightmare -- look for the very helpful notes in the back.)
For the convenience of travelers, the Tokaido Road was serviced by 53 well known "way stations" where one could find inns, food, and shelter for animals. The well known Ukiyoe print maker, Hiroshige created around 55 separate prints of the 53 stations which are a fantastic visual record of the stations along the road. They are gorgeous -- some depicting the stations in winter, others in spring, some bustling with travelers, others more remote with only horses quietly grazing. I have included a selection down below, but happily you can see all of Hiroshige's Tokido Stations here. The photograph of the Tokaido Road above was take in 1865 by Felice Beato.