On the road to the Tōkaidō
Tour-conference by Sylvie Ahmadian, lecturer at the National Museum of Asian Arts - Guimet.
Sylvie Ahmadian recalls the story of this famous road, the Tōkaidō (East Sea Road), the most famous road of the Gokaidō (Five Roads) that connected Edo (Tokyo) to Kyotō. Started by the Tokugawa Ieyasu Shogun in 1601, this network was meant to strengthen the country's control. If the initial plot of the Tōkaidō goes back to 9st s. it takes on all its importance under the Tokugawa Shogunate which had, moreover, instituted the system of alternating residence (sankin-kōtai) obliging daimyo to reside in Edo every other year, where they had to leave their family hostage. This system made it possible to better control them and also to weaken them financially so that they do not rebel against the power in place, the maintenance of two residences and the displacements being very expensive. But the road was also frequented by merchants, pilgrims, Japanese people who wanted to travel on foot, in palanquin or on horseback according to their purse.
This journey of about 480 km was punctuated by fifty-three resorts equipped with inns and restaurants, and which were often located near scenic sites or Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. It should be noted that these relays have often been the ferment of an important urban development.
The Tōkaidō has not only been the subject of literary descriptions and travel guides, but has also been a major source of inspiration for many artists who, like Hokusai and Hiroshige, have produced many series of prints dedicated to different relays of this mythical route from Japan to Edo.
The theme of the fifty-three relays of the Tōkaidō has inspired Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) throughout his life: thirty series of prints, very different from each other by their size, their treatment or their number. However, it is the first edition of 1833-1834, called Hōeidō, (named after the publisher), and presented in the exhibition, which has had the greatest notoriety. This series is actually 55 prints, because at 53 stations of Tōkaidō were added, in 1835, two other prints illustrating the starting point, the bridge Nihonbashi in Edo and the point of arrival, the Sanjo bridge in Kyotō.
The exhibited works come from the remarkable private collection of Mr. Jerzy Leskowicz who has entrusted to the Guimet Museum many first prints of this illustrious series of Hiroshige prints.
It is not certain that Hiroshige completed the course of Edo in Kyotō during the summer 1832, accompanying the official procession that would present to the emperor the horses offered by the shogun, but he obviously knew some relay as shown in the preparatory sketchbook for the fourth series, kept at MNAA-Guimet. Although he also drew his inspiration from travel guides and novels such as "On foot on the Tōkaidō"(1802-1814) Jippensha Ikku, the work of this landscaper par excellence remains no less remarkable. However, if Hiroshige has exalted the landscape with lyricism, some prints emphasize human activities and their lot of picturesque or derisory situations. So, in the first print, view of the Nihonbashi bridge in the early morning, in Edo, the derisory sight offered in the foreground on the fishermen carrying their baskets of fish and the hindquarters of dogs devouring remains, contrasts with the major event, relegated to the background of the print: the arrival of a procession accompanying a Daimyōled by porters, standard bearers and walking samurai who emerge from the curved bridge.
In Kawazaki, the Rokug ferryō (3st station), a group of people crossed the Tanagawa River aboard a barge because the Tokaido Road, considered strategic by the shogunate, had few bridges to better control the passages, as it was subject to restrictions and restrictions. prohibitions. Travelers were therefore forced to use ferries or porters to cross waterways. The scene takes place early in the morning as the silhouette of Mount Fuji takes shape for the first time on the Tokaido.
Hiroshige makes quite abundant use of Prussian blue (bero-have - indigo of Berlin) which, introduced in 1820 in Japan from Holland, provoked a real "revolution" in the world of Ukiyo-e and more particularly in the field of landscape. It is mainly reserved for the description of the sky and water spaces, it allows subtle gradations and helps to suggest a twilight atmosphere as in the print titled Totsuka, detour via Motomachi ((5st station): the abundant use of blues and grays sets the scene at dusk. A servant welcomes a rider whose horse ride is burlesque. After leaving Edo early in the morning, the travelers spent their first night in this inn. A milestone indicates Kamakura Road, whose famous sanctuary is located only 8 km from this relay.
Hiratsuka (7st station) does not represent the station itself but a courier of the current mail service on a winding road in the middle of a marsh. Only 2 or 3 days were needed to send mail between Edo and Kyoto. The imposing stature of Mount Korai contrasts with the frail silhouette of Mount Fuji covered with snow.
Odawara (9st station) illustrates the crossing of the Sakawa River while in the distance, you can see the towers of Odawara Castle. In the absence of a bridge, one had to cross the river ford on a palanquin (Kagoor on a simple bamboo platform or on the shoulders of sturdy porters. Hiroshige pays particular attention to the Hakone mountains, whose many colorful facets were inspired by the marquetry work that made the reputation of Hakone artisans.
From the technical point of view, a print is the result of the collaboration of four people: the artist who creates the drawing, the engraver who makes the different woods corresponding to the different colors (the first board being that of the outlines), the printer who applies the successive colors and the editor who coordinates the work and distributes the work. Mishima, the morning mist (11st station) is an example of the technical mastery of the craftsmen able to restore the presence of the fog with the help of faded gray which oppose the fineness of the woods of lines of the foreground. Thus, the elements of the landscape appear as Chinese shadows wrapped in morning mist.
For the first time, Mount Fuji appears as the main element of the landscape in the print titled Hara (13st station), from where one can have one of the most beautiful views on the sacred mountain whose monumentality is reinforced by its summit which pierces the work and leaves voluntarily of the frame of the print. In the foreground, two travelers are accompanied by a wearer whose short jacket offers a pattern that is the character Hiro and that Hiroshige uses to subtly insure his own publicity.
Yoshiwara, Mount Fuji seen from the left (14st station) is the only place on the Tokaido road where Mount Fuji appears on the left. This anomaly is highlighted by the title of the work and the orientation of the head of the horseman figured in the center of the composition and which leads the viewer's gaze into the left part of the work where the discrete outline is drawn Mount Fuji.
Yui, the Satta Pass (16st station) offers a majestic landscape on Suruga Bay where the mountain, steep, seems to pour out. From the Satta Pass, a steep path overlooks the bay, allowing small travelers, who appear in the upper left of the print, to contemplate one of the most beautiful views of Tokaido. All of Hiroshige's composition is entirely devoted to the landscape, which once again includes the majestic Mount Fuji.
The framing is often unusual and even if the artist knew the Western perspective, he also often used the traditional bird's eye view as well as the flat representation of Japanese painting.
In Fuchū (19st station), the artist favors the crossing of the Abbe River on the banks of which was Tokugawa Ieyasu Castle. The crossing is done thanks to specialized carriers called kumosuke who carried travelers in their palanquin, on a platform or straddling their shoulders. Once in the middle of the river, an unscrupulous porter might have demanded a supplement.
Mariko, famous tea house (20st station), was a relay known for its local culinary specialties like grated yam soup and sake fish, praised by the signs hanging on the front of the house.
The originality of the layout of Okabe (21st station) resides the constricted frame on the path that runs along a stream between the two green slopes of the mountain. These form an obstacle to the view and define the inclination of the path on which travelers and peasants walk painfully.
The change of horses and porters to Fujieda (22st station) is the central theme of this print, in which a discontented samurai, undoubtedly impatient, dressed in black and wearing a hat, observes the agitation of the porters and the disorganized scene unfolding before his eyes. In a diagonal layout, covered with picturesque details and with a hint of humor, Hiroshige manages to restore the mood and mood of his characters.
Throughout the series, the artist alternates points of view, privileging the "bird's eye view" for crossing the Oi River for Shimada and Kanaya prints (23st and 24st stations) in which the landscape seems seen from the sky and the characters are reduced to tiny silhouettes. To cross the Oi River, the largest river in Tokaido, it was sometimes necessary to wait for the recession for several days, or even weeks. This misadventure happened to the famous poet Bashô who made it a poem.
In Nissaka (25st station), at the foot of Sayo Mountain, five travelers gaze at a huge stone called "the stone that cries at night", referring to a legend that a pregnant woman was murdered there by robbers and her child rescued by Kannon. As an adult, he would have avenged his mother whose specter would have allowed him to find the criminals.
Hiroshige chooses a composition centered for Hamamatsu, winter scene (29st station): at the foot of a cedar tree which crosses the middle part of the work, travelers and peasants try to warm up and dry themselves around a wood fire, while smoking their pipes. Beyond, the slightly snowy landscape is crossed by pines sometimes called "roaring pines" because of the plaintive noise produced by the wind in their foliage, while in the distance appears the small silhouette of the castle of Hamamatsu that Tokugawa Ieyasu had built in the plain.
Yoshida, the bridge over the Toyo River (34st station) offers a bird's eye view of the Toyokawa Bridge that reaches Yoshida Station, the largest of Tokaido's size. Hiroshige is on the same level as the workers who, in the foreground, are working on the restoration of Yoshida Castle, largely destroyed by a 1873 fire.
Each print of this series of Hōeidō, mentions the calligraphy name of the series " Fifty-three relays of Tôkaidô Then the title of the work, while the subtitle appears in a often rectangular cartouche. On the other side of the work is Hiroshige's calligraphy signature followed by the stamp of the publisher. In the margins of some prints, we can see one or more cachets of censorship, very present in publishing circles, prohibiting certain subjects, limiting the colors or involved in the very composition of the works.
Goyu, women berthing travelers (35st station) is the only print of this series where Hiroshige mentions on the banners, in the upper right corner, the names of the engraver, the printer and the publisher, next to that of the painter, usually unique signatory with the publisher. In this work, in which courtesans fired vehemently from potential customers to their respective homes, Hiroshige uses a single-point Western perspective that allows for the digging of space or "popping up" of images to the viewer, hence the name '' Flowing images '' sometimes used in the Japanese archipelago to express this phenomenon.
In Fujikawa, scene in the suburbs (37st station), the owners of a hostel bow at the arrival of a procession of daimyo to accommodate the lord supposed to stop in their establishment. At the front of the procession, the horses are adorned with strips of paper (gohei) often used in Shinto rituals and have the power to protect from all dangers.
Miya (41st station) illustrates a festival which took place at the sanctuary of Atsuta-jingū, one of the most sacred in Japan. We see two teams pulling attached ropes to which tanks are probably attached, invisible in the print. It is, in reality, a real horse race the result of which augured good or bad harvests. The almost caricatured postures of the characters are reminiscent of certain characters from Hokusai's Manga.
The print titled Yokkaichi (43st station) is traversed by a violent squall: the movement of the trees, the curved silhouettes of the characters - one of which runs after his hat and the other fights against the wind - all combine to translate the violence of the elements. The composition has no real center which reinforces the impression of chaos deliberately expressed by Hiroshige.
For Shōno, rain storm (45st view), the artist, also known as the "Master of the rain", used all his talent to restore the intensity of the rain: the fine oblique stripes suggest the rain and on the bottom of curved bamboos under the effect of the wind stand out in the foreground, travelers struggling against the natural elements: one holds an umbrella, another protects himself from a straw coat while one covered Kago held by porters. Hiroshige manages to make the scene moving by the inclination of the rain, the posture of the characters and the multiple diagonals that cross its composition. The subtle gradients without outline reflect the density of this humid climate.
After the rain, the snow invades Kameyama (46st station). The landscape buried under a thick mantle leads the eye diagonally towards the castle in the upper right corner. It seems obvious that Hiroshige could not see all the relays in the different seasons during his supposed journey of 1832. He has probably made short trips to Tokaido but he also seems to have found inspiration in literature and travel guides, and is imaginative in "dressing" his landscapes according to the season.
Minakuchi (50st station) was famous for its craftsmanship of hats, tobacco jokes or small boxes, all made from dried and braided pumpkin filaments. The artist puts here, as in prints of the series, the specialty of the place.
Fifty-fifth closes the series with the SanjoŌhashi or 'big bridge of the 3st avenue "which marks the point of arrival at Kyoto from the Tokaido road.
It should be noted that the Tōkaidō route, along 480 km, required about two weeks of walking.
The series Fifty-three stations of Tōkaidō-Hodogaya, also on display, is a work done "with two brushes", produced by Hiroshige with the artist Utagawa Kunisada Toyokuni III (1786-1865). If the views on the upper half of these vertical prints are due to Hiroshige, the characters in the foreground are from the hand of this artist, famous for his portraits of actors or kabuki scenes.
The tradition of "travel guides" or "visits to famous sites" was alive in Japan since 17st s. These books gather texts, recommendations, maps and images to better inform the traveler. As to Famous views of Tōkaidō, probably commissioned by the last shogun Iemochi in 1863, this is an important album of Tōkaidō prints that brings together 166 prints made by 15 different artists who are among the most famous of their time, such as Utagawa Kunisada (1786 -1865), Utagawa Hiroshige II (1829-1869) or Kanawabe Kyōsai (1831-1889). The freshness of the colors and the quality of the print make this work which belongs to the collections of the Guimet museum, and presented for the first time to the public, an exceptional work.
This album belonged to Victor Segalen (1878-1909), Navy doctor, writer, sinologist and archaeologist. Posted in China from 1909 to 1914, he has conducted two major archaeological expeditions in which the museum retains many photographic evidence.
A small exhibition, presented in the margins of «On the road to TōkaidōAnd on the occasion of the centenary of the death of Victor Segalen, pays tribute to this illustrious man, passionate and fascinated by Chinese civilization. China is a major source of inspiration for his literary and poetic work. Also, during his two archaeological expeditions undertaken in China in 1909 and 1913, he made important discoveries such as the statuary ensemble of the tomb of Huo Qubing (117 BC) depicting a horse slaying a barbarian or the Qin Shihuangdi Tumulus (209 BC).