FEATURE image: Memorial Portrait of Hiroshige, 1858, Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Hiroshige is best known for his horizontal-format landscape series The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō and his vertical format landscape series One Hundred Views of Edo.
His subjects are an expansion of the ukiyo-e genre, adding to its usual focus on beautiful women, popular actors, and scenes of urban pleasure districts during Japan’s Edo dynasty (1603–1868).
In 1603, the city of Edo (the earlier name for today’s Tokyo) became the urban center of the ruling Tokugawa shōgunate.
One Hundred Views of Edo is a series of ukiyo-e prints by the Japanese artist Hiroshige (1797–1858) that were published in serialized form between 1856 and 1859. Following Hiroshige’s death, the series was completed by his apprentice and posthumous son-in-law, Hiroshige II (1826-1869).
Meguro was a quiet outskirts of forest and fields at Edo. Megudo was named after Fudo-Myoo, an awesome guardian diety established during the reign of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616).
Tokugawa Ieyasu was the founder and first shōgun of the Tokugawa shōgunate of Japan. His great adviser was Tenkai (1536-1643), a Tendai Buddhist monk. The Tokugawa shōguns ruled Japan from the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
Shōguns sometimes practiced falconry at this spot depicted in Hiroshige’s print. Each spring peasants gathered its bamboo shoots to sell. The old waterfall, which existed until the 1930’s, spilled into the O-Chiyo pond.
Hiroshige, in his depiction of springtime, included the shadows of trees in the pond which was an artistic device from European painting which the old artist mastered though rarely used.
The foreground of the color print depicts flowering wisteria (fuji)—a symbol of summer.
The shrine was dedicated in the 17th century. It is associated with Sugawara no Michizane, known as Kan Shōjō or Kanke (845-903), an excellent poet and politician in the Heian period (794-1185). He is the patron of scholars and students—and was deified as a thunder-god known as Tenman Tenjin.
In a popular Kabuki play, poet, scholar, and statesman Kan Shōjō is deified as Tenjin, the thunder god, so that his spirit may take proper vengeance for Kan Shōjō’s death in exile.
The shrine itself was built under Shōgun Tokugawa Ietsuna (1641-1680). It started as a small prayer house to protect against the kingdom of demons to the north-east.
Tokugawa Ietsuna was the eldest son of the third shōgun Iemitsu and great-grandson of the first shōgun Ieyasu. A detail from a drawing attributable to Kanō Yasunobu (1614-1685).
In time, the shrine developed into a picturesque garden with a pond that was kokoro (heart or soul)-shaped. The pond had a pair of high-arched “drum” bridges (taikobashi). One of the bridges, made of wood, is impressively depicted in the Hiroshige print above.
This was a relatively level country of groves and ponds. The large maple depicted in the print and whose leaves fall in front of the viewer’s eyes was one of this area’s major attractions. The trunk was so big around that two people with their arms stretched out could not embrace the tree’s entire trunk.
Japan’s most beautiful autumn foliage– and a tragic love story.
The tree grew on the grounds of the ancient and revered Guhoji monastery. One of this place’s admired features was that it offered some of the finest autumnal foliage in Japan.
Hiroshige does not depict the monastery but the Tekona-no yashiro Shinto shrine.
The shrine is associated with Japan’s most ancient poetry of the Eighth Century.
Tekona was a beautiful village girl from Mama. She was courted by many wealthy and high ranking suitors who began to fight over her. Tekona was so upset by their fighting that she drowned herself in a nearby river to end the discord.
Her story passed on into the ancient poetry which led to building the shrine in her honor in the sixteenth century.
Tekona was a beautiful village girl who drowned herself after becoming upset by the disgraceful actions of her suitors.
The same poetry also mentions the “Linking Bridge” (Tsugihashi), a small bridge painted red which is depicted in Hiroshige’s mid-19th century print.
Mount Tsukuba, one of Japan’s most famous mountains, is depicted on the horizon. These mountains would be known to be covered by an abundance of trees and other flora as well as filled by animals. It is mentioned in the same ancient poetry as Tekona’s tale.