Nihonbashi - The Journey's Start

Previous Back to The 53 Stations of the Tokaido Next


Nihonbashi, the start at the center of Edo (Tokyo) from Tokaido Gojusantsugi by Hiroshige

Nihonbashi (Bridge of Japan): All national roads in Japan were measured from this bridge in the heart of Edo. In 1832 Hiroshige accompanied a daimyo's procession on its mission to deliver a sacred white horse to the emperor in Kyoto. Hiroshige was born a samurai near Edo castle but resigned his post when he became a woodblock print artist. He continued to live in the samurai quarters at the time and probably traveled with this group because they were his friends. There is a legend that his wife secretly sold her clothes and hair ornaments and presented the money she made to Hiroshige so that he could "capture the truth of landscapes for he longed to seek out places famous for their beauty in the provinces, but he lacked the funds to travel."

Before daybreak on their assigned day, the baggage carriers, flag bearers, samurai officials and Hiroshige, assembled at Nihonbashi. As the sun rose over the horizon, they were sent on their way. They left behind Edo (modern Tokyo) a city of one million people that was the trend setter for literature, entertainment and fine arts. To the left are fishmongers reading government notices on the signboards. They worked at Tsukiji Central Market, still located on the Sumida River, though now a mile downstream.

The government declared that daimyo, samurai warlords turned local governors, were required to spend one year in Tokyo serving the shogun then the alternate year in their home province. When the daimyo traveled to and from Edo, they were accompanied by a prescribed number of samurai, officials and porters. Their wives and children stayed in Edo as hostages in lavish mansions. The size of the procession and the mansion were set by government policy. This system of sankin kotai controlled the daimyo and effectively kept them too poor to rebel against the shogun. Their travels along the nation's highways spurred economic development beyond anyone's imagination.

Image Copyright: Minneapolis Institute of Art


Previous Back to The 53 Stations of the Tokaido Next