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National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 194, June 2014

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Digital exhibition
"The Landmarks of Edo in Color Woodblock Prints"

This article is based on the article in Japanese of the same title
in NDL Monthly Bulletin No. 636 (March 2014).


<<Top page of the Landmarks of Edo in Color Woodblock Prints>>


The National Diet Library (NDL), Japan, announces on March 18, 2014, opening of a new digital exhibition entitled "The Landmarks of Edo in Color Woodblock Prints" on its website. The NDL holds numerous nishiki-e (color woodblock prints) in its collection, many of which depict famous landmarks throughout Edo, as Tokyo was called until 1868. The exhibition comprises 484 nishiki-e picturing 103 landmarks near the well-known center part of Tokyo during the Edo era. These nishiki-e vividly convey the bustling atmosphere and the cityscapes of the shitamachi area as well as seasonal flowers and festivals that took place near popular landmarks at that time.

The Japanese word meisho, also pronounced nadokoro in ancient times, originally referred to well-known places specifically referred to in poetic or literary works. As political stability during the Edo era led to the development of roads, transportation, and lodging, more and more people became interested in visiting faraway places, and the word was used to refer landmarks that drew many tourists. This led to many places throughout Japan being designated meisho.

As a new city, Edo, which grew considerably after TOKUGAWA Ieyasu took up residence in 1590, did not originally have many traditional landmarks. But as the city grew, the many temples and shrines found throughout its landscape gained popularity, and Edo eventually became one of the largest tourist attractions in Japan.

There are numerous nishiki-e depicting landmarks, and these works were extremely popular in their day. They were often purchased as souvenirs of a visit to Edo and a means to enjoy the atmosphere of the city viscerally.

Meisho edo hyakkei (One hundred famous views of Edo)

One of the representative nishiki-e series of Edo is Meisho edo hyakkei (One hundred famous views of Edo) by UTAGAWA Hiroshige. This work comprises 119 nishiki-e together with a catalogue which describes beautiful scenery in Edo throughout all four seasons during the period from 1856 to 1858. For example, Nihon-bashi yukibare (shown below), depicts numerous people crossing the Nihon-bashi bridge, one of the best-known sightseeing spots in Edo, with boats and a fish market along the riverside in the foreground as well as Edo Castle and Mount Fuji in the background.

<<Nihon-bashi yukibare (Call Number: 寄別1-8-2-1)>>

Meisho details

The exhibition is organized to include a Meisho details page for each landmark, where a list of nishiki-e depicting that landscape together with a description, the current location in Tokyo, alternate names and other information can be found. Nishiki-e comprising two or more panels are called tsuzuki mono. Tsuzuki mono are shown with all panels together, thereby allowing the viewer to easily understand the original effect. (see below)

<<Toto Ryogoku yusuzumi no zu (Call Number: 本別9-28)>>

Browsing the content

Four options are available for browsing meisho and nishiki-e.
(1) Find on a modern map
(2) Find on a detailed map of Edo
With the Find on a Modern Map option, you can browse for nishiki-e of meisho within each of the current 23-wards of Tokyo. With the Find on a Detailed Map of Edo option, you can browse for nishiki-e of meisho on a map of Edo published between 1849 and 1862. The detailed map of Edo is organized to show various sites, such as Buke (home of a samurai), temples, shrines, Machiya (homes of merchants), rivers, sea, mountains, and woods in different colors. These maps were widely used because of their vivid colors and easily-understood depiction of temples and shrines.
Meisho are indicated by a blue pin on both the old and the new maps. A yellow pin indicates the names of places shown in the background of nishiki-e, for example, major gates, moats, or rivers. Pins also indicate direction from which the nishiki-e was drawn. You can also see how streets and the coastline in the area have changed.

<<Nihonbashi-kita Kanda Hamacho ezu>>

(3) Browse by keyword
You can browse nishiki-e by keyword, including season, event (ex. festival), flower/bird (ex. cherry blossom or swallow) and or background (weather/sky/sea/mountain). Clicking on a keyword will display thumbnail views of all nishiki-e for that subject. Viewing the thumbnails will give an idea of the wide variety of scenes that adored the Edo landscape in that era.


(4) Browse by artist
The exhibition contains nishiki-e by 30 different artists. The page for each artist shows a list of works, their descriptions, and biographical information. Additionally, there are portraits available of the twelve most famous artists. Also, there is a chronological table of artists, which is a good guide to the historical background of these works.

<<Utagwa Hiroshige>>

In addition, five articles provide background information to the exhibition. The articles are entitled The Start of Meisho-e (pictures of famous places), Production and Sale of Nishiki-e (brocade pictures), Famous Products and Famous Shops at Meisho (famous places), Edo Guidebooks, and Nishiki-e (brocade pictures) in the Meiji era. We hope this exhibition will help you enhance your appreciation of the Edo era and nishiki-e!


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