Hiroshige’s masterpiece series “Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō” illustrates scenes from the stations along the Tōkaidō Road (literally, the “Eastern Sea Road”) that stretched for over 500 kilometers, connecting the shogunate capital, Edo, to the old imperial capital, Kyoto. The fifty-three posts consisted of horse and porter stations, along with a range of lodgings, restaurants and geisha houses for travellers, who could cover the distance on foot over a period of two weeks, in good weather conditions. Among these travellers were the feudal lords (daimyō) who were mandated to spend every other year at the shogun’s court and travelled back and forth in huge processions.
The Tōkaidō was the most vital artery during the Edo period and often inspired writers and painters, who immortalized its magnificent scenery in travel guides, comic novels and views of famous places (meishō-e). Hiroshige was most likely inspired by the fashionable literature on the Tōkaidō when he set out to compose his “Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō” about 1833-1834, a series which brought him instant fame and recognition. Although he went on to produce over forty albums of landscape prints on the same subject, this first series, which also known as the “Hoeidō Tōkaidō” (named after its publisher), is undoubtedly the best. Skilfully capturing the atmospheric variations from dawn to dusk, in rain, snow or shine, Hiroshige produced a ready-made book of recollections, taking the viewer on an imaginary trip along the celebrated highway while masterly conveying the lyrical qualities of Japanese nature.