From its earliest days until the dawn of the twentieth century, travel in Japan revolved around religion and religious affairs. Scholar Shuzo Ishimori (1995) argues that ‘pleasure’ travel in Japan originated in the late seventh century when Empress Jito made more than 30 trips to the Imperial Family's resort villa in Yoshino, as well as trips to hot springs such as Arima in the hinterland beyond Kobe. When Buddhism established itself in Japan in the seventh and eight centuries religion provided both the objective and the means of travel. By the tenth century, both temples and Shinto shrines were making travel arrangements for their sect members to visit their sanctuaries (Graburn, 1983).
The Heian period (794-1185) saw travel to Mount Koya and Kumano Shrine. A round trip between the capital Kyoto and Kumano Shrine took about a month, covered 600 kilometres, and involved a group of 1000 people including guards and porters. Yet until the Azuchi-Motoyama Period (1568-1602) it was extremely difficult to travel vast distances due to the poor quality of the roads and the sekisho system. This was a series of checkpoints (on land and sea) that required travellers to pay clearance fees. At the time, a trader taking his boat from Kyoto to Osaka along the Yodogawa River had to clear 660 checkpoints, or one approximately every 100 meters (Ishimori, 1989).
The dawn of the Tokugawa Period (1603-1867) brought revolutionary changes to Japanese society. The nature and means of travel would change forever. Tokugawa Ieyasu's victory at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 brought an end to years of warfare and ushered in an unbroken period of peace, maintained by an authoritarian military regime based in Edo (Tokyo). The Tokugawa authorities instituted a number of major policies that would have a profound impact on society and, by extension, travel.
Religion was, as explained earlier, the motivating force and rationale underlying most Japanese travel from ancient times until the late nineteenth century. The main form of religious travel was the pilgrimage. They comprised three types: 1) honzon (specific gods or Buddhist images) junrei (pilgrimage), a pilgrimage for solely religious purposes, 2) soshi junrei, a pilgrimage to visit temples founded or occupied by particular sect in order to worship founders (soshi), such as the eighty-eight sacred places on Shikoku, and 3) meiseki junrei, a pilgrimage to visit famous places (meiseki), such as the seven big temples of Nara or the twenty-one temples of the Nichiren sect. The third type had mass appeal due to its more secular, tourism-like elements.
The most famous and grandest pilgrimage was the okage-mairi, a term used to describe large-scale pilgrimages to the Grand Shrines of Ise. Supposedly only to be held every sixty-one years, many pilgrimages were held in intervening years. In the spring of 1705, the year of the first mass pilgrimage, children in the Osaka, Kyoto and Sakai area aged between seven and fifteen left their homes and set out for Ise; thirty-three thousand travellers from Edo journeying reportedly passed through the Hakone post station on a single day (Vaporis, 1994). Along the way as many was 3.62 million people joined the caravan.
In annual surveys of Japanese preferred leisure activities, domestic tourism consistently comes out as most preferred (Reja Hakusho, 2001). Indeed, much of Japan's culture and many of its customs require travel, of which sightseeing is often a major component. For example, the two main holiday seasons - Oshogatsu (New Year) and Obon (mid-summer) - both involve, by tradition, return to one's birthplace or parent's home. Second, public holidays in the traditional Japanese calendar were festivals held to commemorate major transition points in the agricultural or natural cycle. Third, travel is also institutionalised within an organisation. To cite two examples, there is the annual holiday taken by company colleagues (shokuba ryokô), and the school excursion (shûgaku ryokô), undertaken by all junior and senior high-school students.
It is also tradition for university or college students to undertake a sotsugyô ryokô (graduation holiday), after graduating and before entering a company. Fourth, trips to natural hot springs (onsen) have been popular for all Japanese since the middle ages. Renowned for their healing properties, the soothing waters of Japan's onsen continue to attract hundreds of thousands of Japanese each year. One of the most fascinating aspects of Japanese travel is the powerful socio-psychological bond that exists between the traveller and those left at home. Graburn (1983) goes as far to call this the most important aspect of social organisation that "differentiates Japanese travel from that in the West" .
(The Japanese preference for travelling in groups has been well documented (see, for example, Embree 1967 and Nakane 1970). The expression 'tabi wa michizure' (travel calls for a companion), for example, dates back to Tokugawa. When Japanese set out on a journey, therefore, they leave behind members of the different groups to which he or she belongs (except in the case of an entire school class, perhaps). While this true is for travellers from any culture, it has special significance for Japan, where a number of customs emerged over time that served to reinforce the myriad set of personal relationships developed by a Japanese individual.