In 1832, when he was thirty-jive years old, the man who was to become
the most popular woodblock artist of all time journeyed down the highway
from Tokyo to Kyoto. His name was Ichiryusai Hiroshige. He and his
companions were escorting a gift horse from the Shogun to the Emperor.
The Japanese had long called the road they traveled "the way facing the
eastern ocean," or " Tokai-do." Over the years through custom and
convenience some fifty-three stopping places had been established about
a day's journey apart.
As Hiroshige went he sketched. Two years later in 1834 there first
appeared a set of fifty-three prints devoted to views from these
stations plus one for the starting point, Nihotnbashi, and one for the
arrival in Kyoto. It is these fifty-jive prints which are here
reproduced in color. From the day of their publication they have been
enormously and deservedly popular. Hiroshige's land-, sea-, and snow-scapes
rank with the world's finest, and this set contains choice examples of
all three. Small as these reproductions are, they also show details of
everyday life in the lusty action so typical of ukiyo-c artists.
Hiroshige died in 1858. Before his death he had produced the amazing
total of 8,400 color prints but none are more beloved than The
Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido.
Accompanying Hiroshige's scenes in this little hook are appropriate
examples of Japanese poetry in three celebrated forms: tanka, haiku, and
senryu, plus a selection from the Manyoshu, Japan's earliest anthology.
In their own language these poems adjust to a severe poetic discipline.
Tanka have thirty-one syllables; haiku and senryu have seventeen, but
haiku almost inevitably are tuned to one of nature's seasons, whereas
scnryu's concern is with the foibles of human nature. None have rhyme.
In English translations strict conformance to this pattern would not be
natural nor desirable. It is hoped, however, that they do reflect the
deceptive simplicity, the packed philosophical implications, and the
lighting flashes of intuition of the originals.
It seems fitting that these poems adorn Hiroshige's landscapes. Of all
ukiyo-c artists none combined better a transcendent love of nature with
a homely interest in the people.