Kunisada, 69 Stations of the Kisokaido Road 69 - Kusatsu

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) The 69 Stations of the Kisokaido Road, Station Number 69: Kusatsu, 1852. Oban.

In a collection of prints about journeying, some background on travel in Edo Japan might be helpful… . In the Sengoku period (15th - 17th century) the shogunate developed five routes crossing the principal districts of Japan. This was partly due to cultural development and partly military necessity. The two most famous routes connected the government capital in Edo (Tokyo) with the Imperial capital in Kyoto. The inland, mountainous route was called the Nakasendo (the Kisokaido) and the coastal route was called the Tokaido. Each of these roads had post stations along the entire length - 53 on the Tokaido and 69 on the Kisokaido. Several artists developed a landscape genre illustrating the route and the post stations of each route. Hokusai is perhaps the earliest in 1804, and Hiroshige the most famous. Hiroshige produced several series from the 1830’s onwards.

In 1852, Kunisada was commissioned to produce a series on the Tokaido road using modified versions of the earlier Hiroshige series with actor portraits in the foreground. The prohibition on naming actors meant that the roles only were identified. The series proved to be so popular that Kunisada quickly conceived of a second series based on the Kisokaido. This very fine series is less well known and scarcer in number than the original Tokaido series. The print above is of Kusatsu Station, no 69 of the 71 prints in the series. The landscape in the background is nominal, the real subject being the half length portrait of the kabuki actor Iwai Tojaku. Tojaku is sometimes better known as Iwai Hanshiro V.

Tojaku died in 1847, but retired a year earlier to become a shaven headed priest. There is almost no information available about the print; my assumption is that this is a memorial portrait of sorts: Tojaku is drawn in the clothing of a monk with his head shaved, holding a battered parasol. Kunisada’s signature is in the red and yellow cartouche to the right which is in fact a distorted version of the Toshidama seal seen on so many of the Utagawa artists' prints.

A fine print, it has some signs of wear, colour and impression are very good. There is embossing to the collar. Generally good condition. Unbacked, trimmed to the image.

35 x 24 cm.