The Kisokaidō route through Japan was ordained in the early 1600s by the country’s then-ruler Tokugawa Ieyasu, who decreed that staging posts be installed along the length of the arduous passage between Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Kyoto
. Inns, shops, and restaurants were established to provide sustenance and lodging to weary travelers. In 1835, renowned woodblock print artist Keisai Eisen
was commissioned to create a series of works to chart the Kisokaidō journey. After producing 24 prints, Eisen was replaced by Utagawa Hiroshige
, who completed the series of 70 prints in 1838.
Both Eisen and Hiroshige were master print practitioners
. In The Sixty-Nine Stations along the Kisokaidō
, we find the artists’ distinct styles as much as their shared expertise. From the busy starting post of Nihonbashi to the castle town of Iwamurata, Eisen opts for a more muted palette but excels in figuration, particularly of glamorous women
, and relishes snapshots of activity along the route
, from shoeing a horse to winnowing rice. Hiroshige demonstrates his mastery of landscape with grandiose and evocative scenes
, whether it’s the peaceful banks of the Ota River, the forbidding Wada Pass
, or a moonlit ascent between Yawata and Mochizuki.
Taken as a whole, The Sixty-Nine Stations
collection represents not only a masterpiece of woodblock practice, including bold compositions
and an experimental use of color
, but also a charming tapestry of 19th-century Japan, long before the specter of industrialization
. This TASCHEN XXL edition revives the series with due scale and splendor. Sourced from the only-known set of a near-complete run of the first edition of the series
, this legendary publication is reproduced in optimum quality
, bound in the Japanese tradition and with uncut paper. A perfect companion piece to TASCHEN’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
, it is at once a visual delight and a major artifact from the bygone era of Imperial Japan.