Fun Quiz on the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and the Fifty-three Stages on the Tōkaidō
This is an interactive exhibition to explore the world of two greatest Ukiyoe masters. Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and Kitagawa Utamaro’s Fifty-three Stages on the Tōkaidō are on display in their full versions, and visitors use their smartphones to enjoy quizzes and learn about these world-famous Ukiyoe series.
Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) was an accomplished artist whose talent was manifest in many genres, including the illustrations for yomihon (novels), nishiki-e (brocade pictures) and brush paintings. His works later traveled across oceans to influence many of the Impressionist artists in Europe. The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji published by Nishimura Eijudō in around 1831 was particularly successful, backed by the popular movement of the time to worship the revered mountain. The series captured people’s imagination through its extraordinary compositions and the striking color rendering, made possible with Berlin Blue.
Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), meanwhile, started his career as an illustrator at the atelier of Utagawa Toyohiro, then gradually gained a reputation in landscape prints. He was a prolific artist, who created many excellent prints of landmarks and scenic views. The Fifty-three Stages on the Tōkaidō was published in 1833 by Takeuchi Magohachi the printer, as the Hoeidō edition. The series brought fame to the artist for his lyrical depiction of people and customs observed through travels, blending with surrounding natural landscapes.
Q: How many prints do the series have?
A: 36 in The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and 53 in The Fifty-three Stages on the Tōkaidō
B: 36 in The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and 55 in The Fifty-three Stages on the Tōkaidō
C: 46 in The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and 55 in The Fifty-three Stages on the Tōkaidō
(Answer) C: 46 in The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and 55 in The Fifty-three Stages on the Tōkaidō
The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji was originally published as a set of 36 prints. For it being successful, Hokusai added 10 more prints. The Fifty-three Stages on the Tōkaidō depicts 53 stops on the route and 2 locations at each end, one being Nihonbashi (in Edo) and the other Kyoshi (in Kyoto).
The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji
Katsushika Hokusai, Edo period (c. 1831)
‘Under the Wave Off Kanagawa’
One of the most impressive compositions in the series, this print conjures up the supreme force of nature over humanity. The soaring waves with mean claws are about to swallow up the helpless sailors, who desperately maneuver their vessels—a dynamic scene that strikes a stark contrast with the Fuji, retaining the immensity in its steadfast figure, though depicted so small.
Q:Which composer was inspired by this print?
(Answer) B. Debussy
Claude Debussy (1862–1918) chose this print for a cover design of his symphonic poem La Mer. The French composer is believed to have had an epiphany inspired by Hokusai’s work.
‘Clear Day with a Southern Breeze’
The magnificence of Mount Fuji is captured in the dawning sunlight. The ‘south wind’ refers to the warming breezes of early summer, which mingle with the subtly gradient scaly clouds in the blue sly. The mountain is also expressed using the gradation technique, making a striking impression through its deep ocher-red. Tiny dots and dark green depict the thick forests on the mountain foot, and the white streaks of snow on its pinnacle adds a complexion. This print is popularly called the “Red Fuji.”
‘Fujimihara in Owari Province’
Hokusai’s taste for striking compositions is evident in this print, depicting a geometrical contrast between the circle of a gigantic pail and the small triangle of Mt Fuji. In reality, however, the location in the title, believed to be near Fujimi in Nagoya, does not offer a Fuji view. The craftsman is one of the artist’s template figures, found in the Hokusai Manga, volumes of his sketch collection.
‘Kajikazawa in Kai Province’
Kajikazawa is a place in Yamanashi, where rapid streams of Fuefuki and Kamanashi Rivers converge into the Fuji River. The dynamic flow is expressed with fine specks of splashing water, with a contrast of the layers of horizontal wavy lines depicting swerving thick current. The triangular constellation of the fisher, the little boy peeking into the fish basket, and the fishing lines corresponds to the sleek mountain figure, another example of Hokusai’s ingenious composition.
‘In the Mountains of Tōtōmi Province’
The location is considered to be somewhere in the west part of Shizuoka. The diagonal line of the massive timber divides the picture into two, with the sawing man as a central focal point. Various characters are placed in the lower segment while the other, upper segment, depicts a rising smoke using fine techniques of graving and smudging gradation. Mount Fuji is framed by the two poles that support the timber. The use of various triangles in the composition gives the picture a thematic pattern.
The Fifty-three Stages on the Tōkaidō, Hoeidō edition
Utagawa Hiroshige, Edo period (1833–34)
‘Nihonbashi: Morning Scene’
Unlike ordinary compositions of the bridge in a profile view, Hiroshige explores a new, ambitious perspective from a bridge end. In 1604, Nihonbashi was designated as a departure point of five major roads that connected Edo with key regions and provinces. The picture captures the bustling morning hours on this main road: a daimyō procession led by a pair of trunk carriers and merchants with fresh produce from morning markets. The clouds in the sky are illuminated by the dawning sun.
‘Hakone: View of the Lake’
Hakone is a mountainous area with steep hill roads, widely known as the most challenging section along the Tōkaidō highway. The picture illustrates this with the somewhat exaggerated mountain peaks, behind which is a splendid view of the Lake Ashinoko. Colorful rendition of the mountain surfaces gives a mosaic-esque visual effect. Details are also interesting: there is a daimyō procession stumbling down the narrow path. A white Fuji paradoxically stands out in this colorful composition.
‘Mishima: Morning Mist’
Mishima is well known for the grand Shinto shrine of Mishima, whose torii gate is depicted in silhouette. A group of travelers with a horse and palanquin carriers make their way passing by the shrine. The early morning under a heavy mist is expressed by the use of other figures and features in silhouette. Detailed figures, the travelers on the horse back and the palanquin, and porters and carriers, create an interesting contrast, some with discernible countenances and others with faces hidden.
‘Kanbara: Snowy Night’
A snowy night of Kanbara is depicted with a sense of stark silence. A cliff on the left cuts the sloping path, on which travelers hurry they ways. Their clothes accentuate the whiteness of the scene. Each figure has a different combination of garments, one rather casual for this snowy condition, the other well equipped for a long-distance journey, and the third wearing a padded overcoat, burying his head deeply into the umbrella.
The ‘white rain’ refers to a sudden downpour of rain in summer. People rush seeking a shelter. To the left, a pair of palanquin porters climb a steep hill. The passenger hangs on tight, firmly gripping his fist. On the right, a farmer with a hoe rushes down the slope, overtaking a man with an umbrella, on which is written “Fifty-three Stages.” The roofs of houses and bamboo forest add depth to the background, and the forests further back sway in strong winds.