... Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating; ... refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world...
Asai Ryōi 浮世物語 Tales of the Floating World 1661
The beautiful woodblocks of ukiyo-e, 浮世絵, tell the story of old Japan - a Japan closed and isolated from the rest of the world - a Japan of fleeting beauty, of geisha, kabuki, courtesans, sumo, samurai and daimyo. They tell the story of the floating world, a time of transience and impermanence.
Early ukiyo-e portray urban life and culture. Although today we generally associate the term with prints, it was as books that the genre first developed and was most popular. Guidebooks and picture books were widely available. Later landscapes and nature as subjects became more common.
Andō Hiroshige 安藤広重 drew during the early 1800s and was one of the major printmakers of this period. His series, The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō is our focus for Picture Study during this term as we prepare for our own visit to the floating world of Japan in only a few more weeks.
Iyeyasu demanded an annual visit to Edo from all the daimyo; and twice a year these territorial lords travelled the roads, stopping at the posting houses along the way. Fifty three of these post stations at various points along the highway provided stables, food, and lodging for the daimyos and their entourages as they travelled its 514 kilometre length.
In 1832, the printmaker Hiroshige travelled the length of the Tōkaidō from Edo to Kyoto, creating numerous sketches of his adventures along the way. He used these sketches to produce a series of fifty five prints - one for each post station, plus one each for the start and end points of the route. The prints are Hiroshige's best known works and are amongst the most popular of all ukiyo-e prints. They portray the adventures that Hiroshige experienced during his journey, as well as the day to day activities of the people he encountered along the way. Together they form an ideal medium for a study of old Japan.
So which to choose? The beginning and end points are obvious, as as Hakone, the posting house and check point we visited back in 2005.
Hakone Sekisho -the Menbansho of the Hakone checkpoint where Sekisho officials from the Odawara Domain inspected male travelers making their way along the highway.After some consideration we selected the other three prints to make up our term's picture study on their subject matter alone.
1 Edition 1 Nihonbashi
11 Hakone 14 Hara 36 Goyu 37 Akasaka 55 Kyoto - Sanjo Ohashi at Keishi
Exquite, aren't they? To think they're carved out of wood first! You can see the prints in this video:
There's more on Hiroshige here:
Learn more about the process here:
I could talk more about each beautiful print - that, after all, is the purpose of Picture Study Charlotte Mason style, but if I did that before you'd studied the picture then I'd really be getting in the way between you and it. The time for discussions like that is after looking at and really seeing the piece of art - not before.
If you look in on us during this subject, Jemimah and I will be discussing what is happening in the picture, the colours and techniques used, whether we like it and why. We will be looking at clothing, events and locations. We will be learning about Old Edo. Mostly, though, we'll just be looking at the work of an exceptional artist and appreciating the beauty he has wrought from God's creation.
Just before he died Hiroshige wrote this poem.
I leave my brush in the EastWith apologies I write,
And set forth on my journey.
I shall see the famous places in the Western Land.
Andō Hiroshige 1858
I leave my worries in the WestI shall try not to bore you to tears with preparations for our journey to Japan in May. Are you interested in hearing more about our Japanese studies or is this enough, already? Do please tell me. I'll cope with the criticism.
And set forth on my journey.
I shall see the famous places in the Eastern Land.
I do get so overexcited sometimes. Such a kid.