Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858, sometimes called Ando Hiroshige) was the second of the two great masters of the Japanese landscape woodblock print, after Hokusai. He is particularly known for his scenes featuring snow and rain, which feauture in many of his best and most famous images, and which has led to his becoming know as “the artist of rain, snow and mist”.

He was born (with the name Ando Tokutaro) in Edo (the name of Tokyo at that point in time), and originally was intended to follow the career of his father, a fire-watchman. After his parents’ death in 1809, the orphan Hiroshige gravitated toward the art world, an inclination which had been encouraged by his father.

In 1811, he became a pupil of the woodblock artist Toyohiro, who had been a fellow-pupil with the great woodblock master Tokokuni under Toyoharu (all of the Utagawa school, the latter being the founder). In 1812 he was formally adopted into the Utagawa school, with the name Utagawa Hiroshige. He continued to hold his post as a fire-watchman, though, until 1823.

His early prints from the period 1818-1830 were initially book illustrations, and later mostly actor prints and bijin-ga, all in the classic Utagawa school style, created by such masters of the Utagawa school as Toyokuni.

In the early 1830’s, he started to discover himself as an artist, starting on the landscapes which became his forte, and changing his signature to Ichiyusai (sometimes Ichiryusai). His first landscape series was in 1829 or 1830, entitled Eight Famous Views of Omi, followed by a ten-print series Famous Places of the Eastern Capital, which in addition to showing the influence of Hokusai, also marked the first revelations of Hiroshige’s true genius.

In 1832 he made his first journey down the Tokaido highway, which resulting in his first great artistic success, the original Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido, a series which catapulted him to contemporary fame and success. This series is is now also universally held among the greatest of all Japanese landscape prints, and one of the two best series he ever did.

For the next twenty years, he continued to produce large numbers of landscape and other series, but principally landscapes, on a large number of different themes.

Chief among them are a large number of other Tokaido series, among them so-called Gyosho Tokaido, the Reisho Tokaido and the Upright Tokaido. Hiroshige returned to the theme of the 53 stations again and again, producing a total of (by various countings) between 16 and 19 editions in all.

Two of the best series on this theme are the so-called “Gyosho Tokaido” (~1840, named after the cursive style of calligraphy used in the title cartouches, literally ‘grass style’) and the Reisho Tokaido (1848-1854, named after the scribes’ style of calligraphy), although the latter is rare, since the blocks for it were destroyed in a fire when only a few prints had been made. Also found fairly often, and of some artistic note, is the so-called Upright Tokaido (1855, in which the print is oriented in portrait mode (or tateban), not landscape (or yokoban), as are the other three series above).

A more complete list of the various print series of Hiroshige, with references to the lists of titles and descriptions of individual prints is in The Colour Prints of Hiroshige by Edward F. Strange.

He lived his entire life in Edo, until his death from cholera at the age of 62 in 1858. ??

His life is best summed up by Edward F. Strange: “Outside his own little circle of friends and customers Hiroshige was a man of small importance in Japan. The cultured classes knew him not; and it is only since his work has begun to gain its great and growing reputation in Europe and America, that he is beginning to be appreciated in his own country.”

J. Noel Chiappa, “Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)”,