The ukiyo-e series "Tokaido meisho-no-uchi" from 1863 was a teamwork of different publishers and artists. It had been published to commemorate the procession from Edo to Kyoto by Shogun Iemochi to pay his respect to the emperor. In 1863 the Tokugawa shogunate was in a state of final weakness and dissolution. The procession and the print series were like a last glittering of a glorious past.
The series is one of the largest published during the Edo period. Nevertheless, it is somewhat mysterious. Neither the precise number of prints nor the contributing artists seem to be completely clear.
This article was written as a background information at the occasion of artelino auction no. 182, which offered the first part of a nearly complete set of this series. Altogether 133 different sheets had been consigned to us.
In 1185 Yoritomo and his brother Yoshitsune from the Minamato (Genji) clan had achieved final victory against their arch-rivals, the Taira (Heike) clan in the naval battle of Dannoura. After this victory, the ruthless tyran Yoritomo (1147-1199) established the shogunate. It was a system of hereditary leadership based on military and economic power. The emperor remained the formal head of state. But he was without any real power and resided in Kyoto - far away from the shogun's residence. The system lasted until 1867, when the last shogun, Yoshinobu, was forced to resign. The then 17 years old Emperor Meiji moved from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo).
After a long-lasting period of civil wars with powerful regional leaders, the daimyo, Ieyasu (1543-1616) from the Tokugawa clan, could unite and pacify Japan in the early 17th century. His reign marks the beginning of the Edo period, which saw an uninterrupted rule of the Tokugawa clan as shoguns of Japan until 1867.
The era of the Tokugawa shogunate was a period of more than 250 years of peace. But it was also a system of total exclusion from any outside contacts ("Japan - the forbidden country") and of internal oppression. Towards the end of the Edo period, the Tokugawa rule was in a desolate state due to its incapability to reform itself.
The forced opening of Japan for trade with the Western powers by a U.S. naval fleet under the Commander Matthew Calbraith Perry and the subsequent Treaty of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854, added more to the weakening of the shogunate. And all was aggravated by crop failures, an economic recession, famine and hyper inflation.
Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founder of the Tokugawa rule, established a clever system of keeping the feudal lords under control and preventing them from becoming too powerful.
The daimyo had to maintain a permanent residence in Edo (Tokyo), the new capital, and had to keep a part of the family in the Edo residence. And they had to pay their respect to the shogun in large and costly processions to the capital at fixed intervals that changed over the years from every two to four years.
The processions of the feudal lords to the shogun, were not the only ones. The Dutch merchants held the exclusive trade rights with Japan since ca. the beginning of the Edo period. Their presence was restricted to a small artificial island, Deshima, in Nagasaki harbor. Every 4 years, the small Dutch community was obliged to show their repect to the shogun in a procession with all whistles and bells. Old ukiyo-e which show such Dutch processions, belong today to the foremeost coveted collector items.
And last but not least, the shogun leaders themselves, had at least a political reason to process from Edo to the emperor's residence in Kyoto every now and then. The famous series of the 55 Stations of the Tokaido by Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) was "born" during such a procession, which the young Hiroshige was allowed to accompany as a member of the shogun's staff around the year 1830. Hiroshige made sketches during the travel, and after his return to Edo they were transformed into woodblock prints.
We assume that the shogun himself - as a kind of public relations effort to brush up the poor public image of his administration - had commissioned two large ukiyo-e series to commemorate the procession, the so-called Shogun Tokaido series, and Tokaido meisho-no-uchi.
The title print that can be found on the web site of the National Diet Library of Japan (see below), mentions 155 prints from 15 artists and lists them with their names. However, among the 133 prints that had been consigned to us, we identified one more - the artist Kunifuku. And Horst Graebner reports about an album in possession of a collector with 160 (plus) designs from 17 artists (see below).
Most of the artists belonged to the Utagawa School, whose head at that time was Kunisada (Toyokuni III). Kunisada contributed 18 of the designs for this series. At that time he was already 78 years old. His prints in this series are signed '78 sei Toyokuni ga' (the 78 years old Toyokuni).
The prints of the series are well made, and look rather pleasing and interesting. The designs are like snapshots to remember your last vacations, but made with a high-end camera and taken by a professional photographer. What makes the images rather different from Hiroshige's Tokaido series, is the depiction of large numbers of people, the participants of the procession and the viewers along the road. This is not really a landscape series. It is a kind of people-landscape series, and that makes them more interesting. All are in portrait format (tate-e).
Another aspect is obvious and quite astonishing. Although the designs are from so many different artists - each with his own, distinctive style - the single pages have a certain common look-and-feel. If one did not know that the series was done by so many different artists, you might assume that all designs came from just one printmaker.
We could not find much information about the series - not in books and not on the internet. And the sources that we found, had contradictory information about the series.
The most comprehensive (image) reference to this series is hard to find for Westerners. It is in Japanese language only - on the web site of the National Diet Library of Japan. The pages show 141 prints (including the title page) from this series as thumbnails that can be enlarged.
And fortunately the title page is shown. In this title page the whole series is referred to as Tokaido meisho fukei (Tokaido Famous Scenery). The title page mentions 155 prints by 15 artists. The title cartouches of the single prints use different titles.
Needless to say that the use of different titles in the cartouches contributes to more confusion.
If you cannot read Japanese, you need not give up. Use a translation help like for instance the Google toolbar. We got a pretty useable text in English.
"The Utagawa Kunisada Project" is a web site dedicated to the research on the print oeuvre by Kunisada Utagawa and maintained by Horst Graebner. The site mentions the Tokaido series with 160 prints (plus) from 17 artists. The information is based on a complete album in the posession of Mr. Luigi Capretti, a collector.
"Very uncommon Kunisada prints for a Tokaido series from different artists designed in 1863.
"Related to this series Ch. van Rappard-Boon writes: "In the second month of 1863 the shogun Iemochi travelled from Edo to Kyoto to pay his respects to the emperor. Afterwards two special Tokaido series were published to commemorate this journey. ... One of the series is titled Tokaido and has prints by twelve artists and twenty-one publishers. ... Both series contain more than the usual number of stations (55) ..." (L71, page 290)."
"About "The Tokaido" I read in an older Japanese auction catalogue that the series include 150 prints plus frontispiece, index page and so on. And than Mr. Luigi Capretti sent me an email in which he wrote that he inherited 160 prints (plus) of the series bound to a book designed by 17 different artists. All of the prints in Mr. Capretti's book have wonderful bright and fresh colors and may be first state and so I pleased him to take photos and to allow me to publish them on my site."
"With the friendly permission of the owner the complete series is presented to the public for the first time on this site. The prints in Mr. Capretti's collection all have full margins but the book has not been separated for taking the photos so not the complete print can be seen on the images. If anybody needs closeup pictures from details Mr. Capretti will send them on request."
It is possible that we may have missed or misinterpreted something. But the information that we currently have - the National Diet Library of Japan reference, the Kunisada project and the 133 prints consigned to us, are not consistent. Maybe the explanation is to be found in different editions or later supplements to the series.
Author: Dieter Wanczura