THE COLOUR-PRINTS OF HIROSHIGE - EDWARD F. STRANGE
THE KISOKAIDO ROAD
The great system of roads organized or reorganized by Iyeyasu as an integral part of his policy of central control of the daimyo, included not only the Tokaido which has already been described, but four others of the first rank. The Nakasendo, or Road of the Mountains of the Centre, which is also called (and better known to us by the name of) the Kisokaido, runs from Yedo to Kyoto, but by a longer and entirely inland route of 542 kilometres. This road is said to have been made in A.D. 702. Its direction is north-west from Yedo to Matsuida, then west and south-west across the mountains to Lake Suwa, and southwest again, by way of Sekigahara, the scene of Iyeyasu's great victory in 1600 which finally consolidated his power. The road then approaches Lake Biwa, and dips down to Otsu where it joins the Tokaido just outside Kyoto. The Kisokaido has 69 stations and the series of prints illustrating it, dealt with in this chapter, consists therefore of 70, including the universal starting-point - the Nihonbashi of Yedo. Only some were done by Hiroshige - the rest by Keisai Yeisen.
The other main roads are the Nikkokaido, of 146 kilometres, running nearly due north from Yedo to Nikko by way of Omiya and Utsunomiya; the Koshukaido from Yedo to Kofu by way of Hachioji (139 kilometres) and thence through Kanazawa to Shimo-Suwa where it joins the Kisokaido. The last of the group is the Oshukaido from Yedo, due north to Asomori through Shirakawa, Sendai and Morioka (786 kilometres). There are, of course, numerous other roads of secondary importance - waki-kaido - or side-roads, which need not be considered for our present purpose. Indeed, so far as concerns Hiroshige, interest arises almost entirely in connexion with two only of the above - the Kisokaido, which supplied him with material for some of his finest compositions, in the series shared by him with Keisai Yeisen, and the Koshukaido, of which the diary of his journey has fortunately been preserved in Mr. Kojima's transcript - though the original perished in the great fire. Of this we give a translation in Chapter VIII.
The series under consideration, to which collectors have agreed to refer as that of the Kisokaido (from the Kiso river which it follows for part of its course), consists, as previously stated, of 70 prints - one for each of the 69 stations and one for the starting-point. I have not, so far, been able to ascertain that any other series of popular views of this road exists. Kaempfer is evidently referring to it when, speaking of Otsu, near Kyoto - where the Kisokaido breaks away from the Tokaido - he says of the countryside, "Behind these mountains [those on the shore of Lake Biwa] there are two very narrow and troublesome roads over other mountains, over which some of the Western Princes pass in their Journies to court." The difficulties of traversing the great mountain range would alone account for the fact that the Kiso road never had the importance of its southern rival; and it will be observed that the daimyo procession, which occasionally appears to some extent in views of the latter, is rarely seen in the series now under consideration. Neither does the Kisokaido appear in other forms of art, as does the Tokaido. It could not have carried anything like the traffic, either in volume or in quality, of the latter; and there are some indications that views of it never achieved the commercial success of the better known series.
It is worth while to analyse briefly, the distribution of subjects between the two artists engaged thereon. Yeisen is responsible for the first eleven subjects, and for six of the next twelve. He only did six more - twenty-three in all, the latest being No.55, "Kodo," leaving forty-seven to Hiroshige. There is evidence that the series was begun in 1835, for one of the umbrellas in No.1, "Nihon-bashi," is inscribed "Year of the Sheep"; and in the opinion of the editors of the Memorial Catalogue, with which I agree, the prints concluding the series should probably be dated much later. This authority places them "from Kashiwabara downwards " (Nos. 61-70) at the end of the Tempo period (A.D. 1843). Moreover, there was an early change of publisher. The first prints were produced by the Takenouchi Hoyeido (or Reiganjima Hoyeido). With Hiroshige's earliest contribution, however, he is joined by Kinjudo (also called Ikenaka Iseri, Ikenaka being a contraction of his address, Ikenohata-Nakacho), and most of the remaining prints were published by this man. After the completion of the series Kinjudo acquired all Hoyeido's blocks and published an edition with his own style and title on No.1 - omitting in every case Yeisen's signature from the prints designed by him. Yeisen died in 1848; but it is not clear whether the second (Kinjudo) edition appeared before or after his death - the presumption is in favour of the latter. The editors of the Memorial Catalogue advance the curious theory that "it may be supposed that the publishers omitted the name and seal of the artist (Yeisen) for fear that the original prints would not be acceptable to the public, with whom the newest edition was most popular in those days." Without disputing the statement, one may venture a doubt as to whether even a Japanese artisan public did not understand the difference between a new publication and a reprint of an old one. It has been said that Yeisen's name was omitted because he quarrelled with the publisher. Nothing is more likely than that this eccentric genius should have had an experience which is not altogether unprecedented even in Western literary and artistic circles. The fact that he no longer owned the copyright would not preclude grounds for trouble. He might have objected, not unreasonably, to excessive printing, to paper, to colour-scheme - in the interests of his own reputation. However, our authority does not consider it "likely that the artist's name and seal would have been struck out by the publisher while the artist was still alive."(1) That view is reasonable and must carry weight. But is there not another possibility?
I suggest that the name and seal of Yeisen were indeed omitted by the publisher of the later editions of his prints because it was thought that the "original prints would not be acceptable to the public" - and, so far, I can agree with the theory of the editors of the Memorial Catalogue. But I also suggest, as a theory not incompatible with human nature as it sometimes appears in business transactions, that the omission of Yeisen's name was conceived in order to put forward at least an implication that the whole work was by Hiroshige. The latter had made his great success with the first Tokaido series, published by Hoyeido and (at the beginning) by Senkakudo. Hoyeido was also the first publisher of the Kisokaido series. The trade-mark of this firm appears on the whole of the first eleven prints - which, we remember, are by Yeisen - as well as on No. 13. In Nos.15 and 18, we have prints by Yeisen, published by Kinjudo (who had joined Hoyeido at an early stage), and, in the opinion of Mr. Happer, with titles in Hiroshige's script. All the remaining prints by Yeisen were published by Hoyeido or by that firm in conjunction with Kinjudo. No.14 is the only print by Hiroshige with the Hoyeido imprint and it has that also of Kinjudo in the margin. Surely then, the distribution of the work between the two artists was closely associated with the change of publisher Hoyeido being, so to speak, on the side of Yeisen and Kinjudo on that of Hiroshige. On this indication I base my theory - that the Hoyeido firm thought it would be a good venture to illustrate the Kisokaido in style uniform with that of their successful Tokaido; that they also entertained the idea of employing an artist of Yeisen's established reputation, by way of not having all their eggs in one basket; that they failed to get anything more out of that wayward genius than a good beginning and another dozen of subjects scattered here and there on the programme, and, in two cases, unfinished as regards the writing of the title; and, finally, that Kinjudo came to the rescue with Hiroshige to complete an undertaking of which Hoyeido was weary. A Japanese authority states that Yeisen "retired" about the end of Tempo (c. A.D. 1843), and this, if true, may account for the whole difficulty.
In this connexion we may make a passing reference to one of those casual and somewhat intangible statements which occur sometimes in the fragmentary "biographies" of Ukiyoye artists, to the effect that Hiroshige was indebted to Yeisen for instruction especially in regard to colour-schemes. So far as we are aware there is no direct evidence of any connexion between the two men before the initiation of the Kisokaido series, but such a story may well have arisen out of the mere fact that this important work was begun by the elder artist and handed over to the younger for completion.
There is one further example of collaboration. Probably about the end of the Tempo period (A.D. 1830-1843) the publisher Yeirakuya issued a small work in three volumes, Ukiyo Gafu, consisting of small sketches of landscapes, birds and flowers, figures and fish. Of this, volumes one and two are by Yeisen while the third is by Hiroshige; they are printed with two tints in addition to black, in the style of Hokusai's Mangwa. Yeisen, in dealing with landscape, was unequal, or, perhaps, perfunctory. At his best, he reaches a high level. No.20, "Kutsukake," is one of the best of all the Kisokaido subjects, and as a representation of torrential rain is not unworthy to stand beside the superb interpretations of this subject by Hiroshige; while hardly less praise is due to the original and striking snow-scene, "Itabana" (No.15). But with these and, perhaps, one or two other exceptions, Yeisen's contributions to the Kisokaido set have not the marked individuality and power of other landscapes by him - such as, for instance, some of the Views of Yedo (of which he did several series), his remarkable series of Waterfalls, etc. In view of the story as to his influence on Hiroshige, it is germane to our subject to point out that Yeisen was, at least, of some importance as a designer of landscapes. Hiroshige's early figure work is decidedly in the style of the elder man; and, while we do not think, for a moment, that the accomplishment of Hiroshige is, even in part, to be attributed to Yeisen or anyone else, it is more than likely that the latter, or his prints, assisted the designer of the great Tokaido series to reach, almost at a bound, the summit of his achievement.
It must be admitted that Hiroshige's contribution to the Kisokaido is also unequal. The series contains a few of his finest efforts. Two great moonlight scenes, "Mochizuki" (No.26) and the "Nagakubo" (No.28) at once demand our admiration. In the latter, and weaker of the two, he gives us an unequalled rendering of the effect of bright moonlight on the river mists, but the amusing little group of children in the foreground insists too urgently on our attention. The low comedy touch, in which Hiroshige constantly and characteristically delights, is, here, somewhat out of keeping with the note of true beauty and sentiment evoked by the artist's treatment of the main subject. But in the "Mochizuki" there is no dissonance. The great pine trees stand up in the night, on the outward edge of the pass, their limbs and roots grasping the bank with a nervous grip that is almost painful. One, the nearest, is already decaying, and its battered trunk leans outwards over the moonlit ravine towards the eternal hills on the far side of the wooded valley. Along the road, in strong contrast to the guardian pines, toil a few tired wayfarers; and the story is told. Here is neither comedy nor sentiment. But when Hiroshige worked out this superb and dignified design I must believe that he saw, and intended others to see, a vision of the iron grip laid on the land by the wise old Tokugawa Shogun. He lived in a time when the seeds of revolution were already well sown and even sprouting. There are no signs of reverence in his versions of the daimyo processions on this and especially on the Tokaido road. Iyeyasu's sentinel pine trees were already straining to hold their grip of the land - even beginning to fall.
Of No.47, "Oi," Mr. Happer remarks that "there is no finer representation of falling snow in any of his other series"; and, with the reminder that some few may be worthy to rank with it, we may accept the verdict. But to me, the mere pattern makes an appeal of the strongest - the contrast and harmony of line and mass. And never has Hiroshige carried farther, nor used more brilliantly, his great gift of simplification. There ought to be an example of this print (which is generally found in a condition at least respectable) in every art school in the kingdom.
As in the Tokaido, Hiroshige gives us one outstanding example of a subject in thick mist; but, whereas in that series, the Mishima mists are those of the morning, in the Kisokaido print, No.37, "Miyanokoshi," we have, again, a moonlight scene, but of the early evening. These subjects tested the powers and the consciences of the printers to the uttermost. Nothing is more difficult to find than perfect impressions. The values rest entirely on the gradation of colour, and only the very finest work in this respect produces anything but a caricature of the artist's intention. What that was, one can well imagine in either case; but one must confess never to have seen impressions which quite satisfactorily realize two of the most poetic visions in Hiroshige's two most important undertakings.
For the rest, one would note, in the best of Hiroshige's Kisokaido prints, perhaps a greater daring in design - almost reaching violence - not by any means out of harmony with the spirit of the bleak and somewhat unfrequented country traversed at times by the road. Examples of this will be found in No.29, "Wada," with its sharp and eccentric peaks piled up in snow at the head of the pass; in No.27, "Ashida," with boldly curving foreground dotted with curious little trees like those in the Noah's Ark of our boyhood, and the angular outline of the far hills in sharp contrast; in the fallen tree in No.33, "Motoyama," monopolizing nearly the whole of the foreground. As compared with the Tokaido, one notes a change, rather than a development of style. In some respects, the artist shows higher powers; but if he is, in these instances, more accomplished, one cannot help, frequently, a suspicion that his outlook is also more sophisticated. Indeed, one might wonder at times, how many of the Kisokaido scenes had been actually sketched - even to the extent of preliminary studies - by Hiroshige. We know that he actually traversed the Kisokaido road. The Department of Prints and Drawings of the British Museum contains a sketch book (1546), described in detail elsewhere in this volume, including no fewer than twenty-four named sketches of, subjects noted by the artist, at stations in the list, of which nine in the series were dealt with by Yeisen. The latter point does not necessarily bear on the question, as Hiroshige sketched everything that took his fancy. Unfortunately the date of the book is not recorded, but from comparison of style with another sketch-book (1548) in the same collection, it need not have been later than 1848 and may have been earlier. The Kisokaido book begins with nine subjects in order of occurrence (with omissions), and although they do not follow this rotation in the subsequent pages, they are so grouped as to suggest things actually seen as he went from one place to another. And there are interesting notes of local costume and that sort of thing; one with memoranda of colours which indicate that he may have had the designing of prints in his mind.
The lesser popularity of the road, as compared with that of its great rival, would account for the fact that the series was not repeated. A book of popular poems, "Kiso Meisho Dzuye," published in 1852, has illustrations by Hiroshige of scenes on the road; and Mr. K. Matsuki informs me that his collection includes some designs on thin paper for andon-ye (festival lamps) of Kisokaido subjects. There exists also a kakemono of one of the stations, Kannonzaka, near Ota (No.52). Mr. Matsuki relates that several of the illustrations in the book of poems are topographically correct, from his personal observation, especially those near Lake Suwa and including the Shiojiri Pass - which are dealt with in the British Museum sketchbook.
A third sketch-book (1545) contains a sketch of the "Yenshu Akihasan" - approach to Akiha Temple - one of the prints in the fine "Honcho Meisho" series, which is placed by the editors of the Memorial Catalogue earlier in chronological order than the Kisokaido series. This corresponds with the actual print more closely than any other of the sketches and must, almost certainly, be considered as the original of it. This book has a drawing of the Nunobiki Waterfall and of the Satta Pass, also forming subjects in the Honcho Meisho. When we find, moreover, that two of the stations of the Kisokaido "Takamiya" (65) and "Echikawa" (66) come within a few pages, we may perhaps, with an easy conscience, connect these most valuable and charming artistic memoranda with the series of colour-prints.
Mr. Fukuba Toru contributed a kakemono entitled "A Scene on the Kisokaido" to the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910 (No.282) and Mr. H. Shugio had in the Memorial Exhibition nine small sheets, printed in black on very thin pieces of wood, of a series entitled "Kiso Meisho Dzu" ("Famous Scenes of the Kisokaido").