Download 1,000+ Beautiful Woodblock Prints by Hiroshige, the Last Great Master of the Japanese Woodblock Print Tradition

For 200 years, begin­ning in the 1630s, Japan closed itself off from the world. In its cap­i­tal of Edo the coun­try boast­ed the largest city in exis­tence, and among its pop­u­la­tion of more than a mil­lion not a sin­gle one was for­eign-born. “Prac­ti­cal­ly the only Euro­peans to have vis­it­ed it were a hand­ful of Dutch­men,” writes pro­fes­sor of Japan­ese his­to­ry Jor­dan Sand in a new Lon­don Review of Books piece, “and so it would remain until the mid-19th cen­tu­ry. No for­eign­ers were per­mit­ted to live or trade on Japan­ese soil except the Dutch and Chi­nese, who were con­fined to enclaves in the port of Nagasa­ki, 750 miles from Edo. No Japan­ese were per­mit­ted to leave: those who dis­obeyed did so on pain of death.”

These cen­turies of iso­la­tion in the Japan­ese cap­i­tal — known today as Tokyo — thus pro­duced next to noth­ing in the way of West­ern­er-com­posed accounts. But “the peo­ple of Edo them­selves left a rich archive,” Sand notes, giv­en the pres­ence among them of no few indi­vid­u­als high­ly skilled in the lit­er­ary and visu­al arts.

Such notable Edo chron­i­clers include Andō Hiroshige, the samu­rai-descend­ed son of a fire­man who grew up to become Uta­gawa Hiroshige, or sim­ply Hiroshige, one of the last mas­ters of the ukiyo‑e wood­block-print­ing tra­di­tion.

Hiroshige’s late “pic­tures of the float­ing world” are among the most vivid images of life in Japan just before it reopened, works that Sand quotes art his­to­ri­an Tim­on Screech as claim­ing “attest to a new sense of Edo’s place in the world.” For the his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal view of the sakoku (or “closed coun­try”) pol­i­cy has long since come in for revi­sion. The Japan of the mid-17th to late 19th cen­tu­ry may not actu­al­ly have been as closed as all that, or at least not as free of for­eign influ­ence as pre­vi­ous­ly assumed. The evi­dence for this propo­si­tion includes Hiroshige’s ukiyo‑e prints, espe­cial­ly his late series of mas­ter­works One Hun­dred Famous Views of Edo.

Now, thanks to the Min­neapo­lis Insti­tute of Art’s dig­i­tal col­lec­tion, you can take as long and as close a look as you’d like at — and even down­load — more than 1,000 of his works. That’s an impres­sive num­ber for a sin­gle insti­tu­tion, but bear in mind that Hiroshige pro­duced about 8,000 pieces in his life­time, cap­tur­ing not just the attrac­tions of Edo but views from all over his home­land as he knew it, which had already begun to van­ish in the last years of his life. More than a cen­tu­ry and a half on, the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic has prompt­ed Japan to put in place entry restric­tions that, for many if not most for­eign­ers around the world, have effec­tive­ly re-closed the coun­try. Japan itself has changed a great deal since the mid-19th cen­tu­ry, but to much of the world it has once again become a land of won­ders acces­si­ble only through its art. Explore 1,000+ wood­block prints by Hiroshige here.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load Hun­dreds of 19th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Mas­ters of the Tra­di­tion

The Met Puts 650+ Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed Books Online: Mar­vel at Hokusai’s One Hun­dred Views of Mount Fuji and More

Down­load 2,500 Beau­ti­ful Wood­block Prints and Draw­ings by Japan­ese Mas­ters (1600–1915)

Enter a Dig­i­tal Archive of 213,000+ Beau­ti­ful Japan­ese Wood­block Prints

The Real Loca­tions of Ukiyo‑e, His­toric Japan­ese Wood­block Prints, Plot­ted on a Google Map

1,000+ His­toric Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed Books Dig­i­tized & Put Online by the Smith­son­ian: From the Edo & Meji Eras (1600–1912)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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