THE COLOUR-PRINTS OF HIROSHIGE - EDWARD F. STRANGE
THE TOKAIDO SERIES
Of the many great roads in Japan, that best known, by repute, to Europeans is the Tokaido, running from the seat of the old executive government of the Shoguns at Yedo - the modern Tokyo - to Kyoto, formerly the residence of the Mikado. And it is mainly to the work of Hiroshige that this fame is due.
The road is not old as age is counted in Japanese history. It formed part of a system inaugurated by Tokugawa Iyeyasu (A.D. 1542-1616), when, in 1603, he became, for all practical purposes, the ruler of Japan, and, taking the office of Shogun, made Yedo the seat of his government. From the Nihon-bashi, the great bridge over the Sumida River, just opposite the palace of the Shogun, roads radiated throughout the principal island of the Japanese Empire, and from this point all distances were measured. Moreover, the new constitution of Iyeyasu demanded an annual visit to Yedo from all daimyo; and twice a year, coming and going, the main roads were passed and repassed by their processions, splendid in equipment and in strength according to their degree. In the old days, it is said that the cortege of one of the leading princes numbered as many as 20,000 men, who carried out the journey with almost regal ceremonial. For such, arrangements were made a month or so in advance. The posting-houses had to be warned and provision made for the accommodation of parties that often exhausted all the resources of the neighbourhood. The advent of a great daimyo was heralded by advance notices, so that the way should be clear and no inferiors should hamper the course of his magnificence. As he approached, all traffic had to give way, and other travellers, if still on the road, were required to prostrate themselves while he passed. Anyone failing in this homage was remorselessly cut down by the swordsmen forming the escort.
Of the five main highways radiating from Yedo, the Tokaido was perhaps the chief. By this route came all the great nobles from the western provinces as well as the normal traffic between the two capitals Kyoto and Yedo. Thousands of pilgrims used it; for the old Japanese were addicted to pilgrimage often on small excuse. Engelbert Kaempfer (1), who twice made the journey between 1690 and 1692, gives an interesting account of the Tokaido, which, so far as one can judge, might well apply to the conditions which Hiroshige experienced in his first journey over it. He records a procession of one of "the Princes and Lords of the Empire" in detail, describing the order of march, the post-houses and inns, and the pine-trees that bordered the road from end to end (until, in an excess of enthusiasm for the newly-introduced telegraph poles, the Japanese began to cut them down - a vandalism happily checked by the efforts of European residents). Kaempfer notes the distance marks, and the sign-posts which so often appear in Hiroshige's prints and are so wisely used by him as elements in his composition. "At the end of every tract, province or smaller district, a wooden or stone post, or pillar, is set up on the highway, with characters upon it, showing what provinces or lands they are, which there bound upon one another, and to whom they belong." He describes the great litters, in which persons of high degree were carried by six or eight coolies; the difficulties of the fords and especially that over the Oigawa - the subject of several of Hiroshige's designs. He admires the roads, "so broad and large that two companies, tho' never so great, can conveniently and without hindrance pass by one another." The pilgrims to Ise, which all Japanese formerly tried to visit at least once in their lives, those to the thirty-three Temples of Kwannon, the beggars and the travelling nuns all receive due mention, with, on the whole, singular accuracy. And it is not entirely superfluous to point out that this extraordinarily detailed report, made by a European observer before the end of the first hundred years of the Tokugawa regime of strict enclosure, appears to be applicable in every detail to the conditions that Hiroshige must have experienced when he first went up from Yedo.
These conditions no longer exist. The railways and the trend of Western civilization have diverted the teeming traffic from the old Tokaido road. Many of its fine old trees are gone, and the way is no longer swept and sanded to be made fit for the journey of a great lord. Perhaps motor-cars sometimes rush along it. But it is to our artist that not only Japan but Western civilization will have to turn for a picture of one of the most romantic of the world's great highways - and it is a universal disaster that the great earthquake and fire of 1923 have destroyed his personal records - at least in great part. For many of his diaries were sacrificed in that enormous tragedy.
On the old highway there were fifty-three recognized halting places or stages, and these, with the starting-point at the Nihonbashi - the Japan Bridge - at Yedo and the finish at Kyoto, make up the fifty-five subjects commonly found in the series of Views of the Tokaido, as published by Hiroshige and other colour-print artists; though one or two additions or reductions in number may sometimes be found. Each of these places had its story, legend, or other title to fame. Indeed an early guide-book to the road, the Tokaido-Meisho Zuye, published in 1797, and illustrated by Tosa-no Kami Mitsusada and other artists (of whom Keisai Masayoshi is the only one known to us), runs to six substantial volumes. The illustration of the subject was not confined to wood-cuts. It is of not too rare occurrence on inro, those charming little lacquer medicine cases which make so strong and so justifiable an appeal to the collector; and examples exist of the whole fifty-three stages being symbolically illustrated on the surface of a small cylinder as a rule not exceeding four inches in height. These, however, do not come into our story; but it is of some interest briefly to note some of the subjects popularly associated with the stages of the Tokaido road, and these will be found, in their respective places, in the full list of the Stations given in the catalogue.
Hiroshige was not the first colour-print artist to illustrate the Tokaido. It may have some significance that one such series was produced by his master Toyohiro: though no suggestion can be made that the latter's treatment of this subject in the least influenced his far more distinguished pupil. So far as regards the actual subjects, one is immediately struck, in comparing the various series published under the artist's name, with the diversity of treatment of particular stages. Only in a few instances, in each set, can the subject be said even remotely to correspond, in a topographical sense, with that adopted in other views of the same stage; and still more rare is it to find a replica of an earlier design in any of the later series. This fact alone bears strong testimony to the position of Hiroshige in Japanese pictorial art, the traditions of which, derived from or at least influenced by the Chinese, tended to insistence on a stereotyped formula, even as applied to landscape. Hiroshige was hampered by no such limitations. He catered for the masses at a time when independence of thought was already in the air. He derived his material in the first instance from actual observation, and, in this case, where there would seem to have been every inducement to present the particular scenes which, by tradition, were those to which the attention of travellers was inevitably directed, he broke away to give to them an astonishing variety of theme, even to the entire exclusion, at times, of the topographical point of view. In this respect, his independence of convention had far more significance in Japanese eyes than it would convey to Western critics.
The Tokaido road is 514 kilometres in length and traverses the provinces bordering on the southern coast of the island until, near Yokkaichi, it strikes inland by way of Kameyama and Otsu, passing the southern end of Lake Biwa, to Kyoto. Over and over again it comes within sight of the open sea or of the shores of one or another of the almost land-locked bays which fringe the rugged coast. These glimpses of salt-water gave Hiroshige some of the greatest of his opportunities - in colour, in contrast with precipitous cliffs or distant mountains, in the sentiment which seafaring always suggests, expressed in the coming and going of the little coastwise sailing vessels of which he made such splendid use in his compositions. It is not too much to say that herein lies much of the surpassing charm of this great series.
Hiroshige's first journey over the Tokaido took place in 1832, and the set of prints was completed and had been published certainly before the 1st month of 1834, when a second edition was issued in book-form by the publishing house of Takenouchi-Hoyeido. It consists of 55 prints - one for each of the stations, or recognized halting-places, one for the starting-point, the Nihon-bashi, or Japan Bridge, in Yedo, and one for the end of the journey at Kyoto. An additional print entitled Tokaido no Uchi Yenoshimaji, with the sub-title Shichiri ga Hama, giving a view of the beach at that place, was published by the same firm, and has been thought to have been intended for an addition to the original series, but there seems no definite evidence for the conjecture beyond a similarity of format. Later editions of the main series show, in a number of instances, variations in the blocks, no doubt due to damage or wear and tear, and a suggestion has been made that these variations are partly due to partial destruction by fire. So far, however, there is no case of a print which has been entirely re-cut. The engravers were extraordinarily clever in carrying out alterations in a design by cutting out a damaged or rejected portion and plugging the block, or inserting fresh wood on which the correction could be made. Most of the variations occur in the earlier numbers - from No. 10 onwards there are very few. But, in later editions, there is generally a sad falling off in printing, especially in regard to the distribution of colour; and the lines are blurred, as might be expected in view of the soft nature of the wood used.
There is a consensus of opinion that this series made Hiroshige's reputation in Japan. They were not his first essays in landscape. He had already published a number of "Views of Yedo" and at least two series of the "Eight Views of Lake Biwa" (Omi). Moreover, the editors of the Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition place, in order of date, before the Tokaido, the superb kakemono ye, the "Snow Gorge," and the exquisite "Yedo Views of the Four Seasons" (elsewhere referred to in this volume) as well as many of his "Flower and Bird" prints, and the two extant examples of a series entitled "Twenty-eight Moonlight Views." They prove that his genius and technical skill were fully developed, even before he chose the old road for his great enterprise. These were notable efforts, already very far removed from the stereotyped conventions of his predecessors.
But, in face of Nature, the art of Hiroshige, in essential principles, now, at a bound, progressed beyond the limits of his school to a degree that is not easily to be realized by Western students. One must not forget that Hokusai had already issued his own "Thirty six Views of Mount Fuji" (completed about 1829). In those superb designs he had not merely used both Nature and Humanity but had translated them with almost overwhelming force into terms of his own supreme and separate individuality. There is no echo of Hokusai in Hiroshige's Tokaido. The latter, indeed, translates Nature, but faithfully - indeed with magnificent and compelling truth - and only into the perfectly selected conventions of his technical process. His characters, the wayfarers that he saw and sketched on the journey, are not merely incidents in a pattern but entirely human - the life of the road. Almost always, they are men and women more or less of his own social class, touched off with not a little kindly humour. In Hokusai's landscape we admire the skill of the artist; in that of Hiroshige, the beauty and truth of the scene.
It has been said that Hiroshige joined the mission to Kyoto in a minor official capacity. It has even been assumed that he was formally employed as an artist to make a record of the journey - as Western painters have sometimes been associated with State progresses. Japanese students no longer accept either version. Hiroshige's connexion with the fire-police gave him the opportunity of joining the party-as an obscure plebeian of no particular importance. Is it not sufficiently significant that he practically ignores the ceremonial side of the procession? Now and again you get a few banner-bearers - their poles were useful in composition - or a distant view of the litters and other paraphernalia, for the same reasons. But the dignitaries themselves do not appear; and in many of the prints we find only the ordinary traffic of the road - such persons as those of whom the artist in his note-books records his meetings and partings, his likes and dislikes. It was a new thing for an artist in Japan to take this point of view, however natural it may appear in our eyes. At last, the Japanese themselves have realized what it meant. No wonder Mr. Yone Noguchi says, "He is, in truth, the only one native and national artist of Japan."
A singular quality of the series is its high level of artistic merit. One may have preferences; and such masterpieces as the "Rainstorm" at Shono (46); "Clear Weather after Snow" at Kameyama (47); "Evening Snow" at Kambara (16); and the "Throwing-away-the-Brush Peak" at Sakanoshita (49) are among those which would probably come near the head of a list in popular favour. But not one of the fifty-five is lightly to be discarded; not one but would have earned high praise for the artist were it standing alone. Moreover, one cannot fail to appreciate the variety of subject and of composition. Later, the artist showed a tendency to favour certain basic lines; for instance, a bold curve in the centre, with high ground on either side, and a distant view in the gap. He never repeats himself in the First Tokaido, and, as far as the series goes, he gives us just that much of the infinite variety of Nature.
Hiroshige made several other sets of Tokaido Views - some of them being half-plate size. A list of the most important is given on p. 53. From the artistic point of view the Reisho (formal) set is the most important - so-called from the fact that the title is in formal characters on a label. It is also known by the name of the publisher, Marusei. It contains some very good designs, several of which are strikingly original in composition. This series is rare, and seems to exist only in good and early state; a circumstance accounted for by a story that the blocks were destroyed by fire before many impressions had been printed. The British Museum contains a considerable number, but not, at the time of writing, a complete set. Three series of the harimaze prints (for cutting up) are also noted. These consist of a number of separate designs printed in groups of four or five on vertical sheets of the ordinary size. The subjects are by no means always landscapes; but, more often, symbolical of the stories and legends associated with the different stations of the great road. Many of them are of great ingenuity and beauty, and they are often met with in their separate form. We have included in the catalogue the full detail of the subjects of a late Tokaido series, in which Hiroshige collaborated with Kuniyoshi and Kunisada (signing, Toyokuni), for the reason that these supply a whole range of the subjects associated with the Tokaido, and are of interest on that account. The stories told are, it must be remembered, such as would have been well known to every Japanese; and with their habit of symbolism, it only required what must often seem to us to be a far-fetched allusion, to bring these fragments of old history and legend instantly and completely to the mind of the beholder. This association of ideas must always be reckoned with in the art of the Far East. It underlies what we might think to be mere realism, perhaps imperfectly expressed, but taking on an entirely different aspect when interpreted with full knowledge of what it is intended fully to convey. In this sense also should be considered the So-hitsu (two-brush) set, by Hiroshige and Kunisada, dated from 1854 to 1857, issued in the latter year by the publisher Maruya Kiushiro, and engraved by Yokogawa Take.
It will not be inappropriate to conclude this chapter with a note on one of the two books dealing with the Tokaido, by Hiroshige. The text is an example of a practice common in this country during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and followed also in Japan, of prefacing a work with gratulatory epistles or addresses written by literary men with some claim to the attention of the public. Indeed, it is not unknown in our day. Moreover, the preface has its interest; and the turn of phrase, admirably translated, holds a kindly savour of its own.
Translation of Preface to Vol. I.
Travelling is one of the greatest pleasures. Every year have I wished to start on a tour, but my daily duties have not yet allowed me to realize my desires. This work is by the famous artist Hiroshige; in careful detail are views of over fifty villages (stations) between Kyoto and Yedo ; the well-known seas and mountains, Mt. Akiha of Omi Province, Horaiji Temple in Mikawa, and the various routes leading to the Sacred Shrine of Ise. Looking at these pictures is even greater pleasure than travel itself! Those who have never travelled will find instruction [in these pages] while those who have visited these places will be vividly reminded of them and their associations. Ignorant as I am of drawing, I dare say that with dark and light shades of ink, its fragrance and beauty, this work is not inferior to the work of any old master.
This by :- RYUKATEI TANEKADZU, Spring, 1851
Rear Word, at Back of Vol. II.
These words are for the teacher Hiroshige:-
Leaning on my desk and looking at the first drafts [originals for the blocks] I find the Pine Forests of Hodogaya, the plum thickets of Sugita, the sea-girt shores of Kanazawa and Kamakura, the mansion of Kagekiyo, Horai Temple, Atsuta Temple, Yokkaichi, the clear water of Isuzu River, Asama Mountain, and [Husband and Wife Rocks of] Futami-ga Ura.
Towards the Western Capital [Kyoto] are Higashi Yama, Kiyomizu Temple, ending with Sanjo Bridge.
The brush with great speed covers one hundred ri.
Like a fox borrowing the mane of a lion, I have the honour of placing this rear word to end the book-on a rainy day at the beginning of Spring, 1849.
This by:- Tanekadzu, at the north window of the house styled Ryukatei.
(The "rear word" should have been the preface. Written after seeing the original drawings, it seems to precede by two years the preface written at the time of publication.)
The advertising page at the back reads:
Tokaido Fukei Dzuye ; Zen Pen (1st Vol.) Go Hen (2nd Vol.) complete.
Script for preface and descriptive text by Ryukatei Tanekadzu. Engraved by Yoshida Torakichi.
Kayei 4th year (1851) Wild Boar, early Spring, issued.
Toto (Eastern Capital), Plates (publisher) Shorindo (or Fujiokaya Keisuke), of Tori Abura-Cho.
LIST OF TOKAIDO SERIES
Gojusan Tsugi-no Uchi. Publishers, Senkakudo and Hoyeido.
The Great Series. Oban
Yokoye. 55 prints. Completed edition with preface by Yomo-Takimizu,
1st month of Tempo 5, A.D. 1834. Publishers, Takenouchi-Hoyeido.
Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi. Publisher, Sanoki. Chuban Yokoye. Title and 56 prints.
Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi Saiken Dzuye. Scenes with humorous figures. Publisher, Muratetsu. Oban Tateye. Incomplete (about 11 prints).
Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi. Publisher, Tsutaya. Chuban Yokoye. 54 prints.
Gojusan Tsugi. Publisher, Muraichi. Chuban Tateye. 56 prints.
Tokaido. Publisher, Marusei. The Reisho Tokaido. Oban Yokoye. 55 prints.
Tokaido. Publisher, Hayashi-sho. Oban Yokoye. Incomplete, 6 prints known.
Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi Dzuye Kwai. Publisher, Fujikei. Figures and landscapes. Oban Tateye. Incomplete, " about three-fourths of the series."
Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi Meisho Dzuye. Publisher, Tsutaya in 1855. Oban Tateye. 55 prints.
Tokaido Harimaze Dzuye. "Mixed" prints. Publisher, Ibasen. Oban Tateye. 12 sheets.
Tokaido Harimaze Dzuye. " Mixed " prints. Publisher, Senichi. Oban Tateye. 14 sheets.
Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi Harimaze Dzuye. "Mixed" prints. Publisher, Yamaguchi. Oban Tateye. 15 sheets.
Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi. Publisher, Yesaki (or Yetatsu). Small Oban Yokoye. 55 prints. Later edition with 4 designs redrawn. Publisher, Yamadaya.
Tokaido: Publisher, Aritaya. Oban Yokoye. 4 subjects on each of 14 sheets.
Tokaido. Publisher, Yamasho. Oban Yokoye. 8 subjects on each of 7 sheets.
Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi Tsuzukiye Furyu Jimbutsu Shinkei. Publisher, Muraichi, in 1852. Known as the Jimbutsu (mankind) set. Chuban Tateye. 56 prints.
TOKAIDO SERIES BY HIROSHIGE AND OTHER ARTISTS
Tokaido Gojusan Tsui Hodogaya. By H., Kunisada and Kuniyoshi.
Publisher, Ibasen. Oban Tateye. 57 prints.
Tokaido Meisho Fukei. By H., Kunisada and others. Publisher, Daikin. Oban Tateye. (Probably) 55 prints.
So-hitsu Gojusan Tsugi. By H. and Kunisada. Publisher, Maruya Kiushiro, in 1857. Oban Tateye. 55 prints.