Adams led the men along the famous Tokaido, which connected Edo with Kyoto. It was thronged with merchants, pedlars and peasants whose strange hats and traditional costumes made for a colourful sight. "Ever and anon," wrote Saris, "you meet with farmes and countrey houses, with villages ... with ferries over fresh rivers, and many futtakeasse . . . which are their temples." Saris was astonished when he saw the quality of the road. Its sand and gravel surface was "wonderfull even" and "where it meeteth with mountains, passage is cut through." The road was divided into leagues, and at the end of each league was a marker in the form of a "faire pine tree trimmed round in the fashion of an arbour". The purpose of these trees was "so that the hackney men, and those which let out horses to hire, should not make men pay more [than] their due".

The contrast with travel in England could not have been more striking. When Saris travelled from London to see his family in Yorkshire, he suffered the ordeal of broken roads and pitiful lodgings. English roads were muddy, potholed and often impassable in the wetter months of the year. "They are often very deep and troublesome in the winter," wrote William Harrison in 1587 in his Description of England. He said that landowners often refused to clean roadside drains, "whereby the streets do grow to be much more gulled [rutted] than before, and thereby very noisome for such as travel by the same".

Adams had sent a letter to the court informing them that he would soon be arriving with a small band of English visitors. When Ieyasu received this message, he immediately sent a palanquin and horses to make their progress even more pleasurable. Saris was particularly pleased to have been given a slave whose sole purpose was to run in front of him carrying a pike. The men stopped each night in roadside lodgings, where the owners would cook them rice and fish, with "pickeld herbes, beanes, raddishes and other roots". Saris noted that there was an abundance "of cheese", unaware that he was actually eating tofu, or bean curd.

There were few dangers on the road, and Adams's presence meant that the men were rarely abused or insulted. He explained to Saris that Japan had a tightly regulated system of local government, which imposed a rigorous discipline on the population: "[There is] not a lande better governed in the worlde by civil pollecy." Each town had a governor, and every street was gated. Houses were divided into clusters - with a headman charged with maintaining order - and everyone kept a close eye on the doings of their neighbours, especially after dark when a curfew was imposed. "Each street is closed at dusk," wrote the Spaniard, Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco, "and soldiers are always on duty . . . If any crime is committed, the alarm is raised and in next to no time the gates are shut in order to catch the wrong-doer." The only sight to disturb the pleasure of the men's journey came at the approach to each town, where the road was lined with the crucified remains of thieves and murderers. As the party approached Shizuoka, the number of dead along the road began to alarm Saris. First, they passed a scaffold bedecked with severed human heads. Next, they saw row upon row of crucifixes, "with the dead corpses of those which had been executed remaining still upon them". Worse still, there were gobbets of flesh lying on the ground, "pieces of others, which after their executions had been hewn again and again by the triall of others' cattans [swords]". These were scattered across the road and caused the men "a most unsavourie passage".

From Samurai William - The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan by Giles Milton
The story of the English mariner who lived in Japan for over a decade at the beginning of the 17th century.
Hodder and Stoughton Paperback 2003
ISBN: 0-340-79468-2
Available from , , barnes & noble