The Tōkaidō road was the primary travel and transport route linking Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and Kyoto. It therefore connected the two most important power bases: the symbolic seat of imperial power and that of the dominant military power. All communications and traffic ran along this busy route.
Merchants, the nobility, clergymen and tourists: all layers of Japanese society used the Tōkaidō road. Print artists found an endless array of subjects in this ‘culture of movement’. They threw themselves into depicting the beautiful landscapes and attractions along the route.
The master of the Tōkaidō
Hiroshige designed his first series of woodcuts of the Tōkaidō in 1832. In 53 prints, he depicted the successive stations (rest stops) along the route.
He made dozens of variations on this series right up until the end of his life, and these were perpetually reprinted. Hiroshige continued to find new perspectives – no two prints are the same.
An enormous market blossomed for prints of the Tōkaidō road. In the 19th century, the route grew into a popular destination for Japanese tourists. The countless hotels, tea rooms, souvenir stalls and even brothels along the route catered to their every need.
Travel guides shepherded the tourists along the numerous highlights and attractions, such as the vantage points on Mount Fuji and the Nihon bridge. Visitors often purchased Japanese prints of these locations to take home as souvenirs.