On the map below, the blue lines are the Nakasendo highway, the Tokaido highway and the Koshu-kaido or Koshu highway. The Naksendo lies furthest to the north and runs from Kyoto in the west to Edo (modern Tokyo) in the east. The Tokaido does the same, but follows the Pacific coast most of the way. The Tokaido and Nakasendo followed the same route from Kyoto until Kusatsu, the ninth post-town east of Kyoto. The Koshu-kaido branches off from the Nakasendo at the post-town of Suwa and rejoins the Nakasendo in Edo. All three highways terminate in the east at Nihonbashi in what was the center of Edo.
The other two major highways of the Edo Period, the Nikko-kaido or Nikko highway, and the Oshu-kaido or Oshu highway also terminated at Nihonbashi. On this map, they can be seen running north as one highway: they split into two a short ways beyond the edge of this map.
Post-towns on the Nakasendo and the Tokaido are indicated by orange circles. Other less important connecting highways are marked in red.
The five highways of the Edo Period
Of the five highways, the two most important were the Tokaido and the Nakasendo. They provided the politically most important link between Kyoto, symbolic of the emperor and his centralizing, cultural influence, and Edo where the Tokugawa house maintained its capital, the real source of power throughout the Edo period.
The Nikko highway was the shortest. It connected Edo with Nikko where the Tokugawa shoguns were buried. Although short, the Nikko highway was important for the funeral and remberance rituals which knit together the Tokugawa retainers and which were also showpieces at which daimyo from other domains demonstrated their loyalty to the regime. The Koshu-kaido provided an important link through the central Kanto plain, but was clearly subsidiary to the Nakasendo with which it connected. The Oshu-kaido is the only link to the north, a factor which underlines the fact that the north was generally less developed and less populated that the rest of the country. The main focus of the political regime was to the west and south.