The end is in sight
The Tokaido Road
Hiroshige’s journey is over two-thirds complete. In the last blog he and his party had arrived at Arai and now the Tokaido Road travellers head in a westerly direction, following the coast as it approaches Shiomizaka,
No.37. Akasaka: Inn with Serving Maids by Hiroshige
Along with the preceding post stations of Yoshida and Goyu, the one at Akasaka was well known for its meshimori onna. Meshimori onna, which literally translates to “meal-serving woman,” is the Japanese term for the women who were hired by the hatago inns on the Tokaido Road post stations. At first their role was that of simply maidservants on the payroll of the inns, but as the traffic along became busier and the kaidō (road) grew, competition between the inns increased, and the ladies were often engaged in prostitution. However, in 1718 the Tokugawa shogunate laid down a law which stated that the number of meshimori onna working at each inn would be limited to two and this was seen as tacit permission to employ a limited number of prostitutes. Hiroshige’s print depicts a typical inn and it is divided in half by a sago palm in the centre of the work. To the left we see travellers partaking of an evening meal. On the right, we see prostitutes putting on make-up and preparing for the evening entertainment.
No.38. Fujikawa: Scene at Post Outskirts by Hiroshige
At its peak, Fujikawa was once a large stop over town with 302 buildings. Its total population was approximately 1,200 people. In this ukiyo-e print by Hiroshige the artist has depicted a daimyō procession on their trek along the Tokaido Road entering the post station. We see three commoners kneeling as the lord’s retinue passes by. A line of old pine trees extend for approximately a kilometre mark the location of the Tōkaidō Road.
No.39. Okazaki: Yahagi Bridge by Hiroshige
Okazaki was a part of the thriving castle town which encircled Okazaki Castle, the headquarters for Okazaki Domain. The thirty-ninth print of the series depicts the Yahagibashi bridge. This magnificent structure was one of the few bridges that people were permitted to use on the Tokaido Road by the Tokugawa shogunate. It was one of the longest bridges built in Japan during the early Edo period. On the opposite bank of the river we can see Okazaki Castle.
No.40. Chiryū: Early Summer Horse Fair
Chiryū was the thirty-ninth of fifty-three stations of the Tōkaidō and counting the print featuring the Edo starting point at Nihonbashi, the fortieth of the woodblock series. Reaching this point meant the travellers had trekked for three hundred and thirty kilometres and would have probably taken, on average, two weeks. The town was famed for its horse market which took place in late April and early May. Tall pine trees can be seen and the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, ordered that the post station plant pine trees along through route of the highway before and after the town. These all survived until the Isewan Typhoon of 1959 which destroyed most of them.
No.41. Narumi: Famous Arimatsu Tie-dyed Fabric
The woodblock print depicts travellers passing by open-fronted shops selling tie-died cloth. Clothing such as the yukata kimono, the unlined kimono for summer use, which was a local speciality of the region.
No.42. Miya: Festival of the Atsuta Shrine
The Tokaido Road post station at Miya also acts as a post station on the The Nakasendō, the Central Mountain Route, also known as the Kisokaidō, which was one of the five routes of the Edo period, that connected Edo and Kyoto. Hiroshige’s print depicts two gangs of men dragging a portable shrine cart which is just out of the picture, past a huge torii gate. The torii gate is the symbol of a Shinto shrine, and the name of the town, “Miya” also means a “Shinto shrine. The shrine in question is the famous Atsuta Shrine, one of the most famous in Japan and a popular pilgrimage destination in the Edo period.
No.43. Kuwana: Shichiri Crossing
The Kuwana post station was found in the castle town of Kuwana Domain, which was a major security installation on the Tōkaidō Road for the Tokugawa shogunate. The actual post station could be found located on the western shores of the Ibi River. Hiroshige’s print of Kuwana depicts two large ships of the Shichiri no watashi ferries about to set sail with travellers from in front of Kuwana Castle, whilst in the background we can see other ships sailing away on their voyages.
No. 44. Yokkaichi: Mie River by Hiroshige
Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e print of Yokkaichi illustrates a stormy day and we see a man running after his hat which has been blown from his head. Another man crosses a small bridge over the Sanju River The roofs of the small group of huts which form the post station can be seen in the middle of a marsh are almost hidden by the reeds.
No. 45. Ishiyakushi: Ishiyakushi Temple by Hiroshige
The Ishiyakushi post station derived that name from the nearby Buddhist temple which is said to have been founded in 726 AD by the shugendō monk Taichō. According to the temple legend, Kūkai carved an image of Yakushi Nyorai on a huge boulder that was found in the forest, and Taichō later built a temple around this image. A settlement gradually developed around the temple. Utagawa Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e print of Ishiyakushi depicts the temple in the midst of a grove of trees on the left and a village on the right. Rising in the background are the Suzuka Mountains. In the foreground we can see bales of rice which means that this is an Autumn depiction and tells us that this post station is at the heart of the countryside.
No.46. Shōno: Driving Rain
The weary travellers are suddenly caught out by torrential downpour as they arrive at the town of Shōno in Ise Province. On the right we see two men heading down hill, one holding an umbrellas and the other wearing a hat and cloak. There are two inscriptions on the umbrella. One is Takenouchi who was the publisher of the series of prints and the other is Gojūsan-tsugi, which was part of the Japanese name of the Tokaido Road woodblock series Tōkaidō Gojūsan-tsugi no uchi. To the left of these men we see another man wearing a hat and a cloak walking uphill followed by two litter-bearers. The falling of heavy rain is depicted like a grey curtain.
No.47. Kameyama: Clear Weather after Snow
The procession of travellers continue on an upward trajectory. The steep path takes them past the castle of Ishikmawa daimyo and we can just see the town of Kameyama in the valley to the left. The castle was home to the Ishikawa clan, daimyō of Ise-Kameyama Domain. The setting is early sunrise and the sky is reddened by the early morning sun. Kameyama was a well fortified city from the middle of the sixteenth century at the time of the building of the castle. In 1854, twenty years after Hiroshige’s woodblock print series was published, the castle was destroyed by the great Ansei earthquake. However in 1855 Hiroshige produced a vertical woodblock series of the Tokaido Road journey and in that series, despite the destruction of the castle, it is depicted in an unblemished state !
No.48. Seki: Early Departure of a Daimyō
The next depiction in the Tokaido series is that of the inn at Seki where the travellers had rested for the night. It is early the next morning and still somewhat dark. The people prepare to set off on the day’s travels. The innkeeper dressed in his traditional kamishimo, a formal kimono for men, stands on the verandah issuing instructions to one of his servants. To the left of the table we see a palanquin (litter) on the ground with the palanquin bearers standing by. The banners we see hanging around the courtyard of the inn probably bear the emblem of the daimyō who has spent the night at the inn. You can see some small brown signs hanging above the head of the innkeeper – they are advertising the availability at the inn of the famous Senjoko and Biojoko brands of white face-powder.
Snow landscape with a gate: Seki by Hiroshige (1855)
The town of Seki also appeared in the 1855 version of Hiroshige woodblock series of the Tokaido Road, the so-called Reisho Tokaido. In this depiction it is late afternoon on a snowy day and we see a few travellers passing the gate to the pilgrim’s route to Iso.
No.49. Sakanoshita: Fudesute Mountain by Hiroshige (c.1833)
Having left Seki, the travellers move deeper inland and have reached the summit of the Fudesute Mountain. The mountain derives its unusual name from an incident in which the celebrated artist Kano Motonobu threw away (sute) his brushes (fude) when he could not capture the beauty of the mountain in a painting.
Another version by Hiroshige of Fudesute Mountain at Sakanoshita.
No.50. Spring Rain at Tsuchiyama by Hiroshige (c.1833)
The fiftieth print in the series depicts a daimyō procession. They are enduring torrential rain as they traverse the crossing surrounded by a raging torrent which rushes below a wooden bridge. The post station, with its darkly coloured buildings, partly hidden by trees, are seen to the left of the picture.
Below are two prints made by Hiroshige of the remote Minakuchi layby station. One was part of the 1833 series and the other from the later series which was published around 1852 and known as the Reisho Tokaido or the Marusei Tokaido..
No.51. Minakuchi: Famous Dried Gourd by Hiroshige (c.1833)
In the 1833 print we see a lone traveller walking through the village of Minakuchi. In the foreground we observe women peeling and drying gourds In the background there is a range of hills. This resting station is located in a desolate rural area and was famous for its production of dried gourd shavings which were often used for Japanese dishes. These women we see are busy producing them. One is shaving a gourd, one, with a baby slung on her back, is helping the shaver, whilst another one is drying the shaved gourd on a rope.
The beautiful pines at Hiramatsuyama by Hiroshige (1851-2)
In this 1852 edition of the Reisho Tokaido we see a peasant leading an ox laden with produce making their way slowly along the winding uphill path. Another man follows. The setting of this print is the steep road leading to the next stop-over point at Ishibe and just to the left of the Tokaido Road. This hill between the villages of Harimura and Kojibukuro, although it only reaches an elevation of two hundred and twenty-eight metres, is known as Mount Hiramatsu. The striking thing about the depiction are the pine trees on either side of the road. Normally pine trees along the side of the road have been planted but these are said to have grown there on their own accord. Note in the background the white clouds depicted by Hiroshige. These cumulus clouds were a Western element, one which only rarely appeared in Hiroshige’s prints.
No. 52. Ishibe: Megawa Village by Hiroshige
Utagawa Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e Hōeidō edition print of Ishibe does not actually show the post station at all, but instead we see a tea house known as Ise-ya, which was located at Megawa no Sato, on the road between Kusatsu and Ishiba. This shop was well-known for its tokoroten, a sticky sweet made from agar, and kuromitsu, a black sugar syrup. We see depicted in the print a group of travellers who seem to be dancing and cavorting in front of the shop. They are observed by three women who are wearing travelling hats and walking sticks. A couple of other travellers, some distance further down the road, are seen to be heavily laden, and struggling with their trek.
No.53. Kusatsu: Famous Post House by Hiroshige (1833)
The post station on the Tokaido Road at Kusatu was also a post station for the The Nakasendō (Central Mountain Route), also known as the Kisokaidō, both being one of the five routes of the Edo period. Looking at the print we observe a busy scene within the post station itself in front of the open-fronted Yōrō-tei, a tea house in which many patrons are probably partaking in their famous Ubagamochi, a sweetened sticky rice cake which was a speciality of Kusatsu. In front of the tea house, on the road itself, we see a passenger in an open kago (palanquin) holding desperately on to a rope as the porters rush him to his destination Moving in the opposite direction we see a larger green, covered kago, and this is probably transporting a high status passenger.
No. 54. Ōtsu: Hashirii Teahouse by Hiroshige
The Ōtsu post station was the last of the fifty-three stations of the Tōkaidō as well as the last of the sixty-nine stations of the Nakasendō. In Hiroshige’s 1833 depiction we see oxcarts, heavily laden with bushels of rice or charcoal descending the street. The oxcarts pass in front of the open front of the Hashirii teahouse, which was a popular resting point on the highway, and was well known for its delicacy known as Hashirii Mochi, a sweet rice cake, which is still a local specialty of Ōtsu. In front of the teahouse is a well from which fresh water gushes out.
No. 55. Kyōto: The Great Bridge at Sanjō by Hiroshige
Finally the weary travellers arrive at the Great Sanjō Bridge over the Kamo River in Kyoto, the imperial capital and the terminal of the Tōkaidō. The bridge is well known because it served as the final location for journeying on both the Nakasendō and the Tōkaidō, two of the famous “Five Routes” for long distance travelers during the Edo period in Japan’s past. In the background we can see houses, temples, and villas at the foot of Higashiyama. Mount Hiei, which is an important Buddhist centre, is silhouetted in distance.
That is the end of our 500 kilometres journey. Most of the pictures came from the website: The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō Road
The information about the journey came from the usual internet sources and a great book I found in a second-hand bookshop entitled Hiroshige, a Royal Academy of Arts, Publication, produced at the time of their 1997 exhibition of Hiroshige’s work.