THE LIFE OF THE ARTIST
We have but a bare outline of the biographical facts of Hiroshige's life. His father was the third son of Tokuyemon Tanaka, a teacher of archery in Yedo, who was formerly a chief page in waiting on the daimyo of the Tsugaru clan; and (as Mr. Minoru Uchida states)  was called Tokuaki Tanaka. Later, he was adopted into the family of Ando, taking the new name, Genyemon Ando. In spite of this change, Mr. Uchida remarks that Genyemon's family tombstones still retain the old family name of Tanaka and that a few of Hiroshige's prints bear it in seal form. Genyemon held an official appointment, which appears to have been of the kind that, in the closely-knit social system of old Japan, were confined to the members of particular families - the hikeshi-doshin, or fire-police. He was attached to the fire-brigade station on the bank of Yayesugashi, in Yedo.
Hiroshige's family, then, were of humble station in life. The firemen, or, perhaps more correctly, fire-police (hikeshi-doshin), were officials of sorts; and, as such, had some measure of authority and influence as compared with unofficial persons of their grade in the Japanese social scheme - influence which was, later on, so far serviceable to the artist as to procure him the opportunity of making his first journey over the Tokaido. The duties had become almost nominal in the general slackness which characterized the last phase of the Tokugawa regime; and it is related that these fire-police occupied most of their time in amusements, in gambling, or in the practice of such easy arts as lay within the scope of comparatively uneducated folk. Thus, some achieved quite a reputation as amateur artists, makers of surimono, for instance, carvers of netsuke, practitioners of the tea-ceremony, or members of the clubs of artisan-poets, who embellished their periodical meetings or picnics with the production of simple verses, popular or even cheerfully vulgar in style and form. Hiroshige's friend and contemporary, Okajima Rinsai, was one of these, and also a member of the hikeshi-doshin. Shigenobu was another, and owed his later connexion with Hiroshige to the fact.
In this environment Hiroshige was born in the 9th year of the Period Kwansei (A.D. 1797); and the circumstances of his earlier years are not without some importance, when one considers the effective use made in some of his best designs of the look-out towers used in Yedo by the firemen of his day.
In the normal course of events, Hiroshige - or, to give him the name that belonged to this period, Tokutaro Ando - would have followed, throughout his life, his father's occupation; and the world would have lost, thereby, a great artist. But in 1809 both his father and his mother died. He had, almost from infancy, displayed his inclination towards art; and his father had already arranged for him to have lessons from a friend and neighbour, an amateur painter named Okajima Rinsai. In his fifteenth year he desired greatly to become a pupil of Toyokuni; but the studio of the great man, then at the height of his popularity, could not accommodate him; and he joined that of Toyohiro, who had been a fellow-pupil of Toyokuni under Toyoharu. Here he progressed so rapidly that within the short space of a year his master, in accordance with the custom of the profession, formally admitted him to membership of the Utagawa fraternity, his diploma, in Toyohiro's own writing, giving him the artist-name of Utagawa Hiroshige, being dated the 9th day of the 3rd month, Period Bunkwa, 9th year (March 9, 1812). This document was known recently to be still preserved in a private collection in Tokyo. Whether it has survived the disaster of 1923 has not yet been ascertained.
Hiroshige, then, had already attained the status, such as it was, of
a designer of colour-prints, in 1812; but he still held his post of fireman
- though to what extent he performed the duties we cannot even conjecture.
It was not until 1823 that he resigned his appointment. Before this date
he had married a woman of samurai descent,
said to have been
a gentle woman possessed of every feminine virtue
and of a graceful mien characteristic of refined family. She died
in 1840; but her son Nakajiro had already been born when Hiroshige left
the fire brigade. The post was filled temporarily by a kinsman, Tetsuzo
Ando, until, in 1832, Nakajiro was old enough to resume it. As Hiroshige
himself was then only thirty-six years of age, the duties cannot have
been very onerous, if they could be taken on by a boy so young as Nakajiro
must then have been.
One cannot ignore the significance of this latter event. The year 1832
was not only that in which Hiroshige definitely established his son in
his hereditary calling, but was also that of his first journey from Yedo
to Kyoto along the Tokaido Road - the journey which produced the most
famous of all his works, the first and greatest series of his
of the 53 Stations of the Tokaido. It is not unreasonable to assume
that now, having provided for his son, he found himself free to wander
at will - to devote his life to the occupation that had been his heart's
desire since the days of his early boyhood - the trade of a painter.
Nakajiro only lived until 1845. His mother had died five years previously;
and Hiroshige married again, his second wife, Yasu, being more than twenty
years his junior. Mr. Uchida remarks that
she appears to have been
a woman of the world  and the comment does not
suggest a compliment. Hiroshige also had a daughter, Tatsu, who may have
been - according to different Japanese statements - either the daughter
the woman of the world, or adopted into the family. Whatever
was the quite unimportant truth, the minor part played by Tatsu in the
story is not without significance in its way. The maintenance of the family
succession was one of the most cherished traditions of the Japanese; and
when the direct line failed, it was the practice, from the highest to
the lowest in the land, to adopt a son whose piety would preserve the
ancestral legend. So that, on the death of Nakajiro - in 1845, it will
be remembered - this was done. The adopted son, who married Tatsu, was
Shigenobu (Hiroshige II), about whose relations with his master and father-in-law
there has been so much discussion. The question is fully considered in
Chapter III, and in this place we need only draw attention to the fact
that the adoption and marriage must have taken place after the year previously
mentioned. Its actual date has not been ascertained; but this limitation
in one direction has at least a definite bearing on the problem. Tatsu
eventually was separated from Shigenobu, and married Shigemasa (Hiroshige
III). Yasu, the second wife of Hiroshige I, died in 1876.
There is little more to be said of the life of Hiroshige I in the way
of mere biography. His life is in his work, as it should be; and, of that,
we are fortunate enough to possess a very considerable quantity. His house
was always in Yedo - the modern Tokyo; first at Ogacho, whence he moved
to Tokiwa-cho in 1846, and again, in 1849, to Kano Shinmichi. His residence
in Yedo was enlivened by the journeys he made at various times, journeys
which resulted in the accumulation of the material for most of his colour-prints.
That of 1832 throughout the Tokaido has already been mentioned. In 1841
he made a trip to Koshu, in the province of Kai, of which we give a full
account elsewhere. He visited the provinces of Awa and Kadsusa in 1852
(the Kanosan journey), and on another occasion worked the district round
Kominato on the east coast, where is the Temple of Tanjo-ji, sacred to
the memory of Nichiren, who is said to have been born there. It was probably
on this occasion that he visited Naruto and obtained the material for
his famous sketch. His last undertaking of this kind seems to have been
in 1854, when, says Mr. Shugio, he renewed his acquaintance with
parts of the Tokaido, to inspect and to make the survey maps of several
rivers which cross that great highway, for the Shogun's Government.
Of this journey a series of fan-prints may have been the outcome.
Hiroshige died of cholera in his 62nd year, on the 6th day of the 9th
month in the 5th year of Ansei (A.D. 1858). The Memorial Exhibition included
a copy of a paper sold by hawkers giving an account of well-known people
who perished in the cholera epidemic of 1858. The artist's name is mentioned,
with the note,
Hiroshige's death cannot be too much deplored.
He was buried in the inner garden of the Togakuji Temple of the Zen sect
at Kita-Matsuyamacho, Asakusa, the family temple for the House of Ando.
At the northern corner of the garden, over a little pond, there
stands the stone by two hemp-palm trees twined round by wires. Thus the
scene is both lonely and inspiring. This stone
Ryusai Hiroshige-no Haka (Tombstone of Ryusai
Ando Yakeyo Koreo Tatsu (Erected by Mrs. Ando
Yaye-the daughter of Hiroshige, who married first Shigenobu and then Shigemasa),
Shimizu Seifu Sho (Drawn with the brush by Shimizu Seifu).
On the back are the posthumous Buddhist names of Hiroshige,
Genkoin Tokuo Ryusaikoji, with the date of his death, and the similar
names of Shigemasa (Hiroshige III, who claimed the title of Hiroshige
Nisei Koryuin Kigai Ryusai Shinshi, with the record of
his death on the 28th day of the 3rd month, Meiji 27th year (1894). This
stone was erected by the widow of the latter. It is illustrated in the
Memorial Catalogue and also in Mr. H. Shugio's article in The
Japan Magazine, together with the original monument, a plain cylindrical
shaft of stone. Hiroshige's burial-place was devastated in the disaster
of September, 1923. His monuments remain but were seriously damaged. The
stone dedicated to the Ando family was removed in 1916. In 1882 a stone
memorial tablet was erected to the memory of Hiroshige in the sacred grounds
of Akihajinsha, a Shinto temple in Mukojima, on the banks of the Sumida
River, which forms the subject of a print in the
Honcho Meisho Series.
It consists of a large monolith on which is engraved Hiroshige's death-poem;
and a representation of the master seated and in the act of writing on
a tanzaku (poem-card). This monument was due
to the piety of Shigemasa, who published a print of it with the following
The late Mr. Ryusai Hiroshige, my teacher, was one of the best pupils of Mr. Toyohiro, who was a direct pupil of Mr. Toyoharu, the founder of the Utagawa school. He (Hiroshige) did not study long under his master, for he lost him when he was 16 years of age. Since then he did not seek another master, for he had an ambition to establish an independent school. For that purpose he studied hard by himself, and had often to climb mountains and descend to valleys, in order to sketch from Nature. Thus he established an independent school of realistic landscape.
Though I am a dull and poor painter, yet I have succeeded to his name, therefore I tried to think of a good plan to commemorate his favour permanently. I have, fortunately, succeeded lately in fulfilling my desire by the very kind help of Mr. Matsumoto Yoshinobu and a few other gentlemen, who had been related in art with my late teacher, by erecting in front of Akiha Temple, on the bank of the Sumida River, a stone monument with my teacher's last poem engraved on it. I am extremely delighted that this has been done.
Meiji XV., Horse Year (A.D. 1882), 4th month (April).
Respectfully expressed by
Ryusai Hiroshige (II).
The Victoria and Albert Museum has an impression of this print, as well as a proof of an early state completed with the drawing in ink of the portrait by Shigemasa, signing himself as stated. The latter also painted a portrait of his master, illustrated in Mr. Shugio's article in The Japan Magazine already referred to, which is evidently copied from Kunisada's memorial portrait; and another portrait, carved in wood, is reproduced by the same writer.
Shigemasa's portrait, however, cannot be relied on to give us a faithful presentment of the great artist. For that we must go to the colour-print issued in the year of his death by his friend Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) and reproduced as the frontispiece to the Memorial Exhibition Catalogue and also to this volume. Here he is depicted as a man of - perhaps, from our point of view - rather more than his age; seated, looking to the left, his hands on his lap and in the right holding a rosary. He is clad in green robes bordered with black of a religious recluse and with the diamond-shaped cypher (Hiro) on the sleeves and shoulders. About his waist is an undergarment of a sort of tartan. His shaven head is nearly bald. It strikes one as a strong face, perhaps a little tired, but full of character; and with a hint of humour about the half-closed eyes-the face of a man who has lived well and enjoyed the adventure.
The print is inscribed as follows:-
Ryusai Hiroshige is a distinguished follower of Toyohiro, who was a
follower of Toyoharu, the founder of the Utagawa School. At the present
time, Hiroshige, Toyokuni (Kunisada) and Kuniyoshi are considered the
three great masters of Ukiyoye -no others equal them. Hiroshige was
especially noted for landscape. In the Ansei period (A.D. 1854-1859)
he published the
Yedo Hiakkei (Hundred Views of Yedo),
which vividly present the scenery of Yedo to the multitude of admirers.
About this time also appeared a magazine entitled
Kyoka Koto Meisho
Dzuye (Humorous Poems on the Famous Views of Yedo), published
monthly, with illustrations by Hiroshige and displaying his wonderful
skill with the brush to the admiration of the world. He passed away
to the world beyond on the 6th day of the 9th month of this year, at
the ripe age of 62. He left behind a farewell sonnet:-
ni fade wo nokoshite tabi-no sora; Nishi no Mikuni-no Nadokoro wo min.
This, written by Temmei Rojin.
The Eastern City
I leave. And - without a brush
To see new scenes
I take the long road
That leads to the distant West.
To the right of the signature of Toyokuni are the characters, in script,
Omoi kiya rakurui nagara (While
thinking of him we shed tears). The seal date is Horse Year, 9th (month)
- 1858. That of the publisher is Uwoyei, who issued the
Views of Yedo; and of the engraver, Yokogawa Take. The red seal
under the signature of the artist has been read
Ikku, which may mean
Life but a Vapour; literally,
Long smoke reaches Heaven.
Outside his own little circle of friends and customers Hiroshige was a man of small importance in Japan. The cultured classes knew him not; and it is only since his work has begun to gain its great and growing reputation in Europe and America, that he is beginning to be appreciated in his own country. His farewell poem was prophetic. In the worldly sense, Hiroshige - as Mr. Yone Noguchi confesses - has indeed come to the West.