Hiroshige’s Tōkaidō Road: Early Armchair Traveling

For today’s Throwback Thursday, we’re taking a trip down memory lane with our 2018 exhibition, Hiroshige’s Tōkaidō Road. Tracing the journey along the highway connecting Edo (now Tokyo) to Kyoto, Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō (Tōkaidō gojusan tsugi no uchi) is a series of color woodblock prints published between 1831 and 1834. Their incredible popularity catapulted the artist to stardom making him a household name. This display of the entire series was enriched with prints from some of Hiroshige’s other Tōkaidō series (he did more than 30 unique versions and duplicates), so visitors could detect subtle differences between impressions.

To travel the 300-plus miles of highway—a distance roughly equal to the Pennsylvania Turnpike—required about ten days on foot, or five days by horseback. And just like the turnpike’s service plazas, 53 stations along the Tōkaidō road offered weary travelers a place to rest, have a meal, buy souvenirs and supplies, or stay overnight at an inn. Each print in the series captures the landscape and unique characters one would encounter along their journey.

The series was a resource for the 19th-century armchair traveler unable to explore Japan themselves. Many of us are staying close to home these days. Which nearby or far off locals are you longing to armchair travel to this summer?

A woodblock print showing a serene scene of mountains overlooking a wide plain with trees and people
Utagawa Hiroshige, Numazu, ca. 1847–1852, Carnegie Museum of Art
A woodblock print of three figures standing on a tree-lined shore
Utagawa Hiroshige, Hamamatsu, 1850, Carnegie Museum of Art
A woodblock print of a small building with tables and chairs; people sit inside drinking tea
Utagawa Hiroshige, Famous Teahouse at Mariko (Mariko, meibutsu chaya), ca. 1831–1834, Carnegie Museum of Art
A view of a corner of a room, with seven framed color prints hung on the wall
Installation view of Hiroshige’s Tōkaidō Road, 2018, Carnegie Museum of Art, Photo: Bryan Conley