1871 Hiroshige III Ukiyo-e Triptych of Tokyo-Yokohama Train

東京高輪海岸蒸氣車鐵道圖 / [Steam Train on the Railway along the Tokyo-Takanawa Coastline]. - Main View

1871 Hiroshige III Ukiyo-e Triptych of Tokyo-Yokohama Train


Japan's First True Railway.


東京高輪海岸蒸氣車鐵道圖 / [Steam Train on the Railway along the Tokyo-Takanawa Coastline].
  1871 (undated)     14 x 28.5 in (35.56 x 72.39 cm)


A remarkable view of Japan's first modern railway, this ukiyo-e woodblock triptych was drawn by Utagawa Hiroshige III and published by Tsunajima Kamekichi in 1871.
A Closer Look
This view depicts the train between Yokohama's Sakuragichō Station and Tokyo's Shimbashi station, which began operations in 1872 but was highly anticipated, feared, and debated for months beforehand. Focusing on an area near Takanawa, today a neighborhood in the Special Ward of Minato in southern Tokyo near Shinagawa Station, it is notable for including the embankment which cuts across center. The construction of this 2.7-kilometer-long embankment was necessitated by opposition to an overland line in this area from the Ministry of War (兵部省). Nearby hills were leveled to provide earth for the embankment, while the stone on the outside of the embankment came from fortifications built late in the Tokugawa period which were demolished for the purpose. In the background are stone-reinforced islets (later overtaken by large-scale landfill), one bearing a tower, likely a lighthouse.

Although the train and the rail line are the focus of the view, all around them are people moving about in a buzz of activity. People of various social classes (some of them in Western-style garb) and goods pass by on horseback, rickshaw, or horse-pulled carriages. In the background, a similarly varied scene plays out on water, with small fishing boats and trading ships in the foreground, and larger foreign-style ships in the background. Among the many difficulties in constructing the railway was opposition from fisherfolk and coastal traders such as these, who (rightly) suspected that the line would disrupt their livelihoods.
Japan's First Modern Railway
Although Japan had already seen dramatic changes in the years since the forcible opening of the country to foreign trade in 1859, throughout the 1860s the pace of change rapidly quickened and spread out from relative isolation in treaty ports like Yokohama. Although accompanied by social upheaval and civil war, this period was also exhilarating and dynamic. With the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the central government encouraged rapid adoption and domestication of foreign technologies, including railways. Foreign engineers and advisors brought in by the government advised the construction of a railway between Tokyo and Yokohama, which hitherto required taking the coastal Tokaido road or traveling by boat.

Although earlier foreign travelers had brought model locomotives to Japan and a short demonstration line was built in Nagasaki in 1868, the line between Tokyo and Yokohama was the country's first true railway, as well as a major financial and political commitment by the new Meiji government. British railway engineer Edmund Morel helped to design and plan the railway, including the training of Japanese railway engineers, though he did not live to see its completion, dying of tuberculosis in November 1871 in Yokohama. Built on a narrow 'Cape gauge' (3 feet 6 inches) as opposed to the wider 'Stephenson gauge' (now known as standard gauge), the Tokyo-Yokohama line proved to be extremely popular, further propelling Japan's breakneck modernization and setting a model used for decades as Japan evolved into one of the world's premier railway nations.
Nishiki-e (錦繪)
Nishiki-e (literally 'brocade picture', also known as Edo-e 江戸繪 because it developed in the Tokugawa capital of Edo) is a style of woodblock printing that emerged in the 1760s and revolutionized the medium. Instead of producing a black and white print which was then hand-colored, or perhaps with one or two color blocks added, as had been done previously, nishiki-e prints allowed for the combination of many blocks, each adding one color to a complete image, which were fitted together perfectly. The result was that vibrantly-colored prints could be produced in greater numbers in far less time, allowing for popular distribution of woodblock prints, especially ukiyo-e prints.

Nishiki-e remained the dominant mode of woodblock printing through the Meiji era and was critical to the distribution of prints that carried depictions of new technologies and ideas throughout Japan in the mid-late 19th century. The present work falls squarely within the Yokohama-e (橫濱繪) genre, depicting foreigners and foreign technologies in the wake of Yokohama's opening as a treaty port in 1859.
Publication History and Census
This triptych was drawn by Utagawa Hiroshige III and published by Tsunajima Kamekichi. It is undated, but from context can be dated to late 1871, when this portion of the line was constructed and anticipation mounted for the line's full opening. It should be distinguished from Hiroshige III's contemporaneous view of the train near Yatsuyama ('東京八ツ山下海岸蒸気車鉄道之圖') as well as Utagawa Yoshitora's (歌川芳虎) view of the train at Takanawa ('東京高輪海岸蒸気車鉄道走行之全圖'), also published in 1871. The present triptych is quite rare.


Utagawa Hiroshige III (三代目歌川広重; c. 1842 - March 28, 1894), also known as Andō Tokubei (安藤徳兵), was a Japanese woodblock artist of the Meiji era. He was a student and later son-in-law of Utagawa Hiroshige, often considered the last master of the ukiyo-e genre. Most of Hiroshige III's work falls within the Yokohama-e genre, depicting foreigners or foreigner technologies and styles in Japan. More by this mapmaker...

Tsunajima Kamekichi (綱島亀吉, fl. c. 1868 - 1900) was a Japanese Meiji-era bookseller, printer, and publisher active in Tokyo during the late 19th century. Learn More...


Very good.


Edo Tokyo Museum Material No. 07200611-07200613.