Friday, April 24, 2009

Ando Hiroshige


Ando Hiroshige 1797-1858 was one of the greatest Ukiyo-e artists.

He describes himself thus:

Putting aside the moon and snow,
how delightful it is to live roundly
with a head more round
than a dumpling round and round!

Hiroshige was a man of strong features and a ruddy complexion. He was fond of his sake and loved fine dishes and this was evident in his portly appearance.

I learned about Hiroshige's work when I walking the Nakasendo Way as he is famous for his collections of landscape scenes along the Tokaido and Kiso Kaido Highways.
The Sixty Nine Stations of the Kiso Kaido feature many of the post towns on the Nakasendo walk.

Born into a low ranking Edo samurai family Hiroshige lived on the border between the samurai elite and the working class. His father was a fireman at the Edo castle and Hiroshige inherited this role at thirteen years of age when his father died.

Legend has it that Hiroshige decided to become a ukiyo-e artist when he saw the work of near contemporay Hokusai who published a famous set of prints called Thirty Six Views of Mt Fuji in 1832.

Hiroshige was fortunate to have been tutored in the Chinese influenced Kano school of painting by another fireman.

At age fifteen he was accepted, as per the practice, to be apprenticed to Utagawa Toyohiro, a notable Edo artist.

Owl on a Pine Branch

Making a boat ride on the crescent moon
the wind in the pines would love
to enter the long-eared owl's ears
- like the song of a harp

a kyoka by poet Hajintei

Hiroshige's early print making period concentrated on bijin - beautiful women, actors and historical figures. After which he made landscape prints of birds and flowers. This was followed by a period of landscapes featuring fashionably dressed women in the foreground and several series with historical and classical themes. He also made prints with humourous content and for practical purposes such as fans, envelopes, advertising, board games and book illustrations.

Grey Mullet and Camellia

the mullet that sees in a whirl
the lightning flash of a hook
is frightened to death

The kyoka on the right by Toshinomon Haruki

But what Hiroshige is possibly most remembered for are his numerous (over 4500) depictions of the landscapes and towns from his travels. He aimed for realistic representation throughout all seasons, and the works were immensely popular. It was a time when internal tourism was booming and guidebooks abounded.

Seba - from the series - The Sixty nine Stations of the Kisokaido

Men poling boats past a bank with willows

Hakone- Travellers on a Mountain Path at Night

As the saying goes, speaking of clouds,
it also happens to people -
just when one approaches a mountain path,
evening falls

Fukien Mitsuhara

Hiroshige dominated printmaking with his unique brand of intimate small scale works, known for vibrant colours and unusual vantage points.

Autumn Moon over Tama River

I have been looking so long
but didn't see it come out of the mountains
there it is, without any dust:
the moon over the Crystal River


A Bonito

Fresh bonito tastes best
when you let it melt in your mouth
under the snow of Kamakura

Toshihiro Machikado

Karuizawa - from the series - The Sixty nine Stations of the Kisokaido

He also greatly influenced French Impressionists particularly Van Gogh and Monet.
So valued are Hiroshige's prints that history draws on his works to paint a picture of the Tokugawa - Edo period from 1600-1868.

The Plum Tree at Kameido
from the series- One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

Just before his death Hiroshige wrote:

I leave my brush in the East
And set forth on my journey
I shall see the famous places
in the Western Land

The Western Land refers to the strip of land from Kyoto and Edo - the Tokaido but also serves as a double reference to the Paradise of Buddhist texts.

The Moon Seen through the Leaves

It is not so sad that maple leaves fall,
scattered on the moss-covered ground -
it is only sad when the wind gets chilly and rough,
and rain clouds darken the sky


Information sourced from Wikipedia,
and the book Hiroshige by Matthi Forrer,



  1. The poem he wrote before his death...I don't think I've read it before...for me it has so many meanings...
    thank you for sharing!

  2. What beauty you always post Delwyn!
    I love that picture of the Gray Mullet and Camellia. And the eleoquent prose you've posted is inspiring as always.

    Steady On
    Reggie Girl

  3. Oh Delwin,did you know I go wild on Japanprints,love everything about it.Whish you a great and beautiful evening,hugs from Sandra

  4. Delwin,
    This is a rich introduction to a fine artist. Tell me, how did you become such an expert on all things Japanese? Did you live there long? Are you of Japanese descent?

  5. Delwyn, this is the most beautiful artwork of this kind that I have seen. The vibrant colors are beautiful. The print with the campfires & smoke rising is lovely and I like the mullet & bonito fish prints. It's all too lovely for words.

  6. Another walk in Japanese art history. And a lovely one, too.

  7. Tulsa,
    hi there
    yes i can see that that poem would have multiple meanings for you.
    I'll email you soon.
    Happy days

  8. Reggie,
    nice to see you again, I'm glad you enjoy ukiyo-e too.
    happy camellia days

  9. Rosaria,
    It has all happened out of a burgeoning interest in Japan. My oldest daughter was fascinated by all things Japanese from a young age. She was the student who befriended the Japanese exchange student at high school, studied Japanese, majored in Japanese at uni and then went to Japan to teach English a few years ago. She is on her third teaching contract but has been back for long spells in between. However this time she has settled with her Japanese partner so it will be for a longer term.
    My introduction to Japan was through her, although I have always loved the East and as you know we have a daughter born in Korea.
    I have had three holidays there, the last of which included the Nakasendo walk, and as with anything I am interested in I read, buy books, study, learn...and now you are seeing some of the results...
    And I am very happy if you are getting some enjoyment out of my interest...
    Happy Days

  10. Lizzy,
    hello from saturday...
    When I returned from the Nakasendo walk I bought a number of books through Amazon, including the Hiroshige one mentioned above, and also a book on Ukiyo-e. I also spend a lot of time searching the web for prints that appeal to me.
    But the Hiroshige book by Matthi Forrer is beautifully set out with the accompanying poems - a real treat.
    We got to know Hiroshige on the walk as his prints of the post towns appeared everywhere and we went to the Museum in Ena as described in 'Nakasendo 6'.
    Happy Days

  11. Aleksandra,
    that's great to have another with the same interest...
    Have you gone back through my six 'Nakasendo posts' to catch up on all the Japanese prints?
    Happy days

  12. Meri,
    How are you today?
    Glad to have you by my side on this art walk...
    Happy art days

  13. ...The Plum tree so delicate to paint from a man's hand,visual breathtaking ,emotional peaceful work.

    I would have liked too meet him.

    xxx Mona

  14. Delwyn you always introduce me to someone I have never seen before and I love it.

    Always an adventure to come here.

    Love Renee xoxo

  15. Mona,
    the marvelous thing is that it's not painted - it's Ukiyo-e wood block prints - how did they ever carve such detail and intricacy?

    Happy ANZAC day

  16. Renee,

    It's good to see you again Renee,
    Hiroshige is a favourite as he highlighted all the Nakasendo post towns for us.

  17. Very beautiful, both text and pictures. Thanks for the introduction to this artist.

  18. Hi Priya
    it's good to see you, it's been very quiet over at the plum tree corner of the woods.
    Happy cake days

  19. Hi again,

    I just did a Google search on this artist and the dutch painter Vincent van Gogh copied some of his work I must say very beautiful as well,I did not know there where 4 people involved too make a print from the original drawing made by the artist,very interesting Thank you Delwyn!

  20. Hi Mona,
    yes there was a team involved. Later in the Ukiyo-e movement some artists did all the work themselves but it was a small group. I will discuss this more in the next Ukiyo-e posting.
    happy days

  21. If I hadn't started reading your blog I would have missed learning and enjoying so much about Japanese prints...these are beautiful...imagine how beautiful the old travelogues must have is wonderful how you have pursued your interest...

  22. Oliag,
    reading your comments makes me very happy as you can imagine that putting these Japanese posts together does take some time and there have been occasions when I wondered why I was investing so much time and effort into something that readers may spend a short 60 secs flicking through...

    But my love of Japan, the country and culture, and my love of creating little stories has won through.
    So I really appreciate your comments and feel that my efforts have been justified.

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