The next three blogs today are all about a journey. I hope you will join me on this journey and look at the artwork associated with the long trek. Most of you will have heard of the Camino de Santiago or in English, The Way of St James, which has a number of various starting points, but all paths on the Camino pilgrimage route lead to the Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St James, (Sant Iago), were discovered in the ninth century. I will be guiding you along the Tokaido Road as seen and recorded in woodblock prints by the Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige.
The Tōkaidō Road, which literally means the Eastern Sea Road, was once the main road of feudal Japan. It ran for about five hundred kilometres between the old imperial capital of Kyoto, the home of the Japanese Emperor and the country’s de facto capital since 1603, Edo, now known as Tokyo, where the Shogun lived.
The Tokaido mainly followed the Pacific coast and places where mountains suddenly meet the sea. It then ran across the mountains, and around the southern end of Lake Biwa, to Kyōto.
Memorial portrait of Utagawa Hiroshige by Utagawa Kunisada I (1858)
Hiroshige completed fifty-five woodcut prints 0f the fifty-three stop-over stations plus the two termini, which later became post-towns established along it. These consisted of horse and porter stations, along with providing a range of lodgings, food, etc, establishments for the use of travellers. The horses were mainly for use by official messengers, but in some cases travellers wearied by their long journey could also hire horses.
The Five Routes (五街道, Gokaidō)
The Five Routes (Gokaidō), sometimes translated as “Five Highways”, were the five centrally administered routes that connected Edo, the de facto capital of Japan, with the outer provinces during the Edo period (1603-1868). Two of these routes appeared in a series of woodblock prints completed by Utagawa Hiroshige. In this blog we will be following his journey along the Tōkaidō Road.
No.1. Nihon Bridge: Morning Scene.
In 1832 Hiroshige travelled with an entourage of the Shogun’s officials from Edo to Kyoto along the Tokaido Road. This journey proved to be an eye opening and life changing experience for him. One has to remember that Hiroshige was an urban man of Edo, and his life had been centred around Edo. This journey he undertook along the Tokaido, entering rural villages and observing the beauty of his country made a great impression on the artist, so much so that he immediately returned to Edo once the journey had been completed and started on his woodblock series using the sketches he had made during the long trek. They were then published as the Fifty-three stations of the Tokaido or Hoeido Tokeido. The publication earned him great critical acclaim during his lifetime and for future generations. Hiroshige was part of an official delegation which was tasked with transporting horses, a gift from the shogun Tokugawa leyasu, the hereditary commander-in-chief in feudal Japan, to the imperial court of the Emperor Ayahito. The horses were a gift from him which symbolised the power structure in Japan and how the shogun recognised the divine rights of the emperor.
Travelling along the Tokaido Road had some restrictions and checkpoints, known as seki, were set up by the Tokugawa government, where guards stood watch, and turned back those who did not have the appropriate passes. Even in the city of Edo there were restrictions and each section of the city, known as machi was closed off by wooden gates called kido. These gates were shut every night, and re-opened early in the morning and so a traveller wishing to start on the first stage of the Tokaido route, at the Nihon-bashi literally “Japan Bridge” in the heart of Edo would have to wait until the kido at the bridge was opened.
Nihonbashi: Daimyō Procession Setting Out
Hiroshige’s journey started in the eighth month of 1832 at the Nihonbashi starting point. It was also from here that the Daimyō Procession started their annual pilgramige. Among the travellers on the Tōkaidō were the processions of the great daimyō, powerful Japanese magnates, and feudal lords who, from the 10th century to the middle 19th century, ruled most of Japan from their vast, hereditary land holdings. They were subordinate to the shogun. They were directed to spend every other year at the Shōgun’s court to prevent them from organizing rebellions, and the group travelled back and forth in huge processions numbering hundreds of people.
No.2. Shinagawa: Sunrise by Hiroshige
The first stop-off point on Hiroshige’s journey along the Tokaido Road journey was at Shingawa, a suburb of Edo.
No.3. Kawasaki: The Rokugo Ferry by Hiroshige (1833).
In the third of the series we see the Rokugo Ferry at Kawasaki depicted. It is a tranquil river scene in which we witness a ferry carrying six passengers. On the Kawasaki shore we see future passengers along with their horse who have to wait for the ferry’s return. Mount Fuji appears in the upper-right of the print.
No.4. Kanagawa: View of the Embankment by Hiroshige (c.1833).
The fourth of the fifty three woodcuts was of travellers arrival at Kanagawa.
The setting of the woodcut print is the town of Kanagawa and it is an evening scene. We see the weary travellers slowly ascending the hill, being propositioned by young girls who try to entice them into the tea-houses.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai’s (c. 1829–1832)
Kanagawa is also the famous setting for Japan’s most famous artwork – Hokusai’s print entitled The Great Wave off Kanagawa. In 1923 the town was devastated by the Great Kanto earthquake.
No.5. Hodogaya: Shinmachi Bridge by Hiroshige.
The next stop for Hiroshige was at the lay-over station of Hodogaya on the bank of the Katabira River. This town, now a suburb of Yokohama, was formed by combining the towns of Katabira, Godo, Iwama and Hodogaya. For that reason, the Katabira Bridge across the Katabira River was called the Shinmachi Bridge (meaning New Town Bridge). Begging Zen priests of the Fuke sect and palanquin bearers are seen crossing the bridge, and beyond them women of the small restaurants stand around and chat.
No.6. Totsuka: Motomachi Fork by Hiroshige
The next layby station on Hiroshiga’s journey is another suburb of Yokohama called Totsuka. In this print we see a man dismounting from his horse in front of an open tea-house, while a waitress stands by to receive him. Beyond this station, the highway was lined with finely shaped pine trees.
No.7. Ōiso: Tora’s Rain by Hiroshige
Once Hiroshige and his party had departed from Totsuka and passed through Fujisawa and Hiratsuka the travellers arrived at Ōiso, a coastal town located in Kanagawa Prefecture. In his depiction of Ōiso, dark black skies dominate and we see a small group of travellers entering the town sheltering from the downpour. To the right of the road we can see Mount Korai and to the left we have a sea view. The inclement weather is highlighted by the menacing black cloud which hovers above the horizon in the yellowish sky. The town of Ôiso at one time had been the home of Ôiso no Tora, also known as Tora Gozen. She was a courtesan based at the Chôtei brothel in Ôiso and the mistress of Soga no Juro and features in numerous kabuki plays. Soga and his younger brother Goro slew Kudō Suketsune, avenging the death of their father. Shortly afterwards the two brothers were executed. This historical event later featured in many Noh and puppet theatre. According to the stories, following Jûrô’s death, Tora became a nun and devoted the remainder of her life to praying for his soul. Tora Gozen was later metamorphosed into a stone, which is one of the sites that can be seen in Ôiso. It is said that she cried on the 28th day of the Fifth Month, the day of Juro’s death and the title of the woodcut Tora’s Rain is reference to this event.
No.10. Odawara: The Sakawa River by Hiroshige (c.1833)
Hiroshige and the travellers left Oiso and headed south-west towards their next stop, Odawara but to reach that stop-over town they had to cross the Sakawa River. In those days travellers made the crossing on the backs of waders, or for the very rich traveller, they would cross the water seated in a palanquin or litter. On the middle-ground on the right of the print we can see the low-lying town of Odawara. Further to the right we observe the fifteenth-century castle of Odawara which nestles below a tree-covered hill.
No.11. Hakone: View of the Lake by Hiroshige (c.1833)
Having left Odawara Hiroshige and the travelling party headed for Hakone and Mishima. To reach Hakone the travellers had to trek through mountainous regions close to their destination. The mountains close to Hakone rose more than a thousand metres and the way to Hakone was a constant up and down and then circling Lake Ashi through the Hakone Pass to reach the Hakone stop-off station. The woodcut print depicts Lake Ashi on the left and in the distance we can make out Mount Fuji silhouetted against a reddish sky. The presence of Mount Fuji is all about artistic licence as from the position we are looking from, the mountain would not have been visible.
No.12. Mishima: Morning Mist by Hiroshige (c.1833)
The next stop on the Tokaido Road is the town of Mishima. During the time of Hiroshige, Mishima prospered as an inn town on the old Tokaido Road, a gateway to Mt. Fuji, Hakone and the Izu peninsula. In the woodcut print we can see a small company of travellers passing through the town. In the depiction, through the morning mist, we can clearly see two stone lanterns of the Mishima shrine. To the left we see the roofs of the town and a few further figures. As the shrine is on the right-hand side of the road the travellers are heading to Edo and the party is carrying a palanquin which would come in use for the journey ahead over the mountain pass.
Mount Fuji seen across a Plain: Numazu by Hiroshige (c.1852)
No.13. Numazu: Twilight by Hiroshige (c.1833)
Present day Numazu with Mount Fuji in the background
Having passed through the mountains of Hakone Hiroshige’s party descend down to the plain which gives them the perfect view of the imposing Mount Fuji. The background of the upper print, completed in 1852 by Hiroshige, is a yellow sky with the smaller Mount Ashitaka on the right. In the right foreground we can just make out the castle of Numazu which was completed in 1579 and two hundred years later it was destroyed and rebuilt.
No.14. Hara: Mount Fuji in the Morning by Hiroshige (c.1833-34)
At Hiroshige’s next layby station at Hara, which literally means “field”, the view of Mount Fuji is virtually unobstructed. It is here that one gets the best view of the majestic mountain. The mountain’s imposing height is emphasized as its peak extends beyond the frame of the picture. This was a technique used by Hiroshige in many of his prints depicting the mountain. Two women, accompanied by a male attendant in traveling dress, seem awestruck by the breath-taking view. The early morning sun reddens the sky. To the right of Mount Fuji is Mount Ashitakayama. The small party depicted in this painting are en route to the next stop over point, Yoshiwara, The area around Hara is dotted with ponds and pools which are habitat for eels and the presence of two cranes in the field is evidence that they are hunting for food from one of these pools. The jacket of the porter bears a pattern that later appears regularly on Hiroshige’s prints as his seal, consisting of two signs for “Hiro”.
No.15. Yoshiwara: Mount Fuji on the Left by Hiroshige. (1833).
No.16. Kanbara: Night Snow by Hiroshige (c.1833)
Deep snow covers the slope of Kanbara in the evening and we can see fresh flakes falling on the houses. Trees, and mountains create a quiet scene only broken by the perceived crunch of the travellers’ footsteps in the snow. Two travellers wearing cloaks and hats trudge up the hill. To the left of them there is another man dressed in blue holding an umbrella and a walking stick. The mountains in the background and the houses in the middle ground stand out against a grey sky. Once again Hiroshige has added a dark strip along the upper edge of the painting to denote that it is evening. This painting is another case of artistic licence as it rarely snows in the Kanbara area, which is in present-day Shizuoka.
Hiroshige’s journey along the Tokaido Road continues in Part 2 of the blog.