The 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō

The 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō

An invitation to join an official procession to Kyoto in 1832 gave artist Hiroshige the opportunity to travel along the Tōkaidō route linking the shōgun‘s capital, Edo, to the imperial one, Kyōto. He sketched the scenery along the way, and when he returned to Edo he produced the series The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō, which became his best-known work, and the best ever sold ukiyo-e Japanese prints.

Published between 1833 and 1834, this is a series of fifty-five ukiyo-e paintings that include one for each station, plus one apiece for the starting and ending points. The Tōkaidō was constructed under the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu which traveled along the eastern coast of Honshū, giving rise to its name which translates to “Eastern Sea Road”. The road became the most important and well-traveled route used amongst the people with many post stations placed along the road to provide stables, food, and lodging for travelers. As I can’t imagine now with the use of the bullet trains, the majority of people back in the Edo period had to travel on foot or by horse and the journey would take about two weeks between both capitals. At the time prior to the release, there was a travel boom contributed from ukiyo-e landscape paintings such as the “Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji” series by artist Hokusai, a strong influence on Hiroshige’s choice of subject given he spent his whole life mainly within the capital. Hiroshige’s approach towards his work was more poetic and ambient with the use of subtle colors. He chose a seasonal theme best suited for each post station, drawing not only the landscape but also the customs as well as the lively presence of the people who reside there giving viewers a simulated experience. On this page, we will introduce the masterpiece “The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō” with explanations of each woodblock prints which has been carefully retouched and cleaned. While both Hoeido and Senkakudo published this series of prints, this version is known as the Hoeido version because they continued to publish the series after the other publisher stopped. Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) is thought to have created this series in 1832 after his experience of accompanying an entourage of horses being sent as gifts from the shogunate to the imperial court. This was Hiroshige’s first Tokaido series, and he later created various other series on the theme. The prints are considered the premier images of the subject in terms of their composition, use of color and sensitivity, and they became wildly popular as soon as they were published. The Tokaido highway ran through various seacoast provinces and was renowned for the rich beauty of its mountain, river, and ocean scenery. In these works Hiroshige imbued his images of the people living near these watery sites and their everyday lives with a uniquely special lyricism.

Series Details
Title:The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō Road
(Tōkaidō gojūsan tsugi no uchi
Artist:Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858)
Period:Edo period (1615–1868)
Medium:Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:15″ x 10″ (38cm x 25cm)

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