Leaving trendy, gentrified Itabashi behind, the Nakasendo heads in almost a straight line for the University of Tokyo about 3 miles away. The first mile is on two-lane street and moderately busy, but a major highway runs on top of the Nakasendo for most of the way before the last stretch on a quieter street which has maintained some local character. The quieter streets are lined with two and sometimes three-story buildings, but the highway has been built up to six, eight, and ten stories.
Directly in front of the Itabashi station is a grave site. Kondo Isamu, it seems, was unable to settle down after the excitement of theMeiji restoration. He was arrested and eventually beheaded at Itabashi Prison for rebellion. His head was sent all the way to Kyoto to be displayed on Sanjo Ohashi, the start of our journey, as was traditional. Aside from his head, Kondo’s body rests here. The prison was built here because it was, then, on the very outskirts of Edo.
A thousand or so yards further on and off to the left is a small temple with a number of important graves. Akutagawa Ryonosuke (1892-1927) was probably the major novelist in the early 20th century: the major literary prize now is the Akutagawa Prize. Akutagawa was vehemently opposed to naturalist writers like Shimazaki Toson from Magome. They spilled sordid confessions across their pages while Akutagawa sought glimpses into human existence in his novels and short stories with their psychological twists. Deteriorating health and increasingly macabre stories were typical of his later years, until he committed suicide. Maintaining that “life is an Olympic Games sponsored by a group of lunatics”, he killed himself, perhaps fearing that his mother’s insanity would visit him. The Akutagawa Prize for literature was created eight years later.
On a more upbeat note, a few hundred yards from Itabashi the highway crosses the only remaining light rail train in Tokyo, which used to have trolleys everywhere. On further is Sugamo train station on the commuter Yamonote loop line which encircles the center of Tokyo. The approach to Sugamo is indicated by an increasing number of shops. In the last couple of hundred yards before the station, the Nakasendo is a shopping street with bright lamps and covers over the sidewalks. The whole street is closed to automobile traffic at busy shopping times. Beyond Sugamo station plaza the Nakasendo runs under an elevated highway and beneath the old highway is a subway line. The last half mile before arriving at the University of Tokyo is residential and quiet, with a few shopping areas for local inhabitants.