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Book Review – Hiroshige: 100 Famous Views of Edo

In Japan Book Reviews on February 26, 2016 at 6:57 am

Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
Edited by Melanie Trede & Lorenz Bichler


I have to confess something. I’m going into this review with a serious bias. I want to be honest about that. On the other hand, a book review is someone’s opinion about a book so… I guess it’s not really my job to be unbiased, is it?

As everyone who reads JapanThis! knows, I love Edo. I love the good parts of it. I’m fascinated by the bad parts of it. However, most of all, I’m in love with the mystery of it – very little of the shōgun’s capital actually still remains. Long gone is the shōgunate’s prohibition against buildings over 2 stories high[i]. Long gone are the palatial mansions of the daimyō. Long gone is the sprawling castle of the shōguns. Long gone are the samurai, the geisha, the merchants, the row houses, the canals, the rivers, and the moats. Modern Tōkyō is an urban jungle that grew out of the world’s preeminent, pre-industrial metropolis. And in many ways, they really are 2 different cities.

It can be said that Edo died 3 deaths: once in the Meiji Period when the city got a slight western makeover, again in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake which brought the city to her knees, and finally in the 1945 firebombing raids[ii]. I’ve always said, there’s a little Edo alive in Tōkyō, you just have to know where to look for it – though usually you have to look really hard.

One of the greatest records we have of Edo is a collection of 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life (literally “pictures of the floating world[iii]”) by歌川広重Utagawa Hiroshige called the 名所江戸百景 Meisho Edo Hyakkei 100 Famous Views of Edo[iv]. While literary and historical texts definitely give us a lot of information about the city, ukiyo-e prints speak volumes about the neighborhoods of the city and communicate profound details about how the average Edoite viewed the city that they lived in. Hiroshige used the popular ukiyo-e style to document the capital and its vibrancy, its place in nature, and its relationship with humanity. Almost all of the views of Edo he depicted no longer exist. Sure, the geographical locations are still there. But the 景色 keshiki scenery is gone.

In my articles on JapanThis!, I do my best to bring the city of Edo back to life. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to track down a photo of an area. Sometimes I get super lucky because there’s a beautiful print by Utagawa Hiroshige.

One final note about Hiroshige and his perspective on the city: he lived from 1797-1858. This makes him a contemporary of 葛飾北斎 Katsushika Hokusai[v] (1760ish-1849). ペリー君 Perī-kun[vi] Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan in July 1853 and demanded the Tokugawa Shōgunate open up the country. To the best of my knowledge – I’m no expert – this didn’t influence Hiroshige’s art. But it puts his life into an interesting perspective if you look at the timeline of Japanese History. He died 10 years before the 明治維新 Meiji Ishin Meiji Coup that saw the fall of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. As a result, Hiroshige is considered one last great masters of the pure ukiyo-e tradition of the Edo Period[vii]. The style didn’t die overnight, but it changed and evolved. The prints of Hiroshige had a particularly unexpected impact on European artists who, despite not understanding what they were looking at, were struck by the beauty of his art and Japanese art[viii] in general. It should be noted that Vincent van Gogh[ix] even copied some of Hiroshige’s originals before he decided that Impressionism[x] is where all the cool kids hung out[xi]. He sucked at it, but he did manage to broaden his own artistic “vocabulary” and turn on other people in Europe to some aspects of the visual esthetic of the Edo Period.

Quick Review


What I expected

What I got

Overall Impression

A beautiful compilation of one of the most important collections of ukiyo-e dedicated entirely to the city of Edo. A beautiful compilation of one of the most important collections of ukiyo-e dedicated entirely to the city of Edo with extremely well written descriptions of each print and a fabulous introduction to the artist and the series.

Type of Book

An art history book An art history book that is itself a lovingly crafted work of art.


Didn’t even give it a thought. I just wanted the pictures. Extremely readable. The only problem is I keep getting distracted by the gorgeous prints.


It’s an art book, not sure if bias was an issue other than I hoped the editors were fans of Hiroshige. It’s an art book and turns out the editors are fans of Hiroshige who are totally biased towards Hiroshige. Just as it should be.


Fans of traditional Japanese art, particularly those fascinated by the Edo Period and ukiyo-e. Fans of art. This book is really accessible. Even if you don’t know anything about the Edo Period, this book is simply delightful to peruse. It’s not just for history nerds. Anyone can fall in love with this book.



This book gets a solid 5 stars from me.

When I set up my somewhat standardized book review system, I told everyone that I’d never give a book a 5 star rating out of principal. There’s no perfect book. But when I made this system I was thinking about academic history books, not art books. I set a standard that doesn’t really deal with this kind of book.

The prints are reproduced beautifully. This isn’t a book you read and then throw on the bookshelf. This is a book you come back to every day[xii]. This is a book that you leave on the coffee table forever. This is a book that you will literally drool over certain pages taking in Hiroshige’s unconventional use of perspective, his unique guile in painting aspects of the yamanote that got him past the shōgunate censors, and his – I believe – profound affection for his hometown.

This book is wrapped in a wooden cover that protects the contents. It’s sturdy and heavy. The binding itself commands a sense of respect for the contents. The entire viewing experience is very Japanese. You will instinctively find yourself revering the physicality of the book and this enhances the viewing experience.

The book begins with a few chapters about Hiroshige, ukiyo-e, the nature of the genre, and a little bit of history. All of this is accompanied by details of various prints. The text is good and solid and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but the authors/editors chose to focus on the visual element and let Hiroshige’s prints speak for themselves. As a result, you may find yourself distracted from the text and drawn to the pictures. And I think that’s OK. This is an art book, not a history book. The text, which is rock solid in my opinion, is there to answer your questions about the subject – should you have questions. This edition clearly focuses on the eye candy. The authors stay back in the shadows and only speak when you want them to.

This is an art book through and through. I love it. I cherish it. It’s big enough to hug.

If you’re interested, here’s an unboxing video made by some dude on the internet:

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[i] Not counting the watch towers, etc…
[ii] Which also brought the city to her knees, but this time it wasn’t an act of nature.
[iii] “The floating world” just means “transient moments” or “passing moments.” Today we have photography which can literally capture a moment in time that will never repeat, previous to photography if you wanted a “snapshot” of life, you had to paint it. Ukiyo-e was often about that “snapshot,” capturing a “fleeting moment.”
[iv] Ironically, the series proved so popular that Hiroshige actually made 119 prints, but 119 Famous Views of Edo doesn’t roll off the tongue, I suppose.
[v] Yes, that Hokusai – the guy who did the boring painting of a big ass wave in Kanagawa and also invented tentacle porn.
[vi] Yes, that is the official Japanese rendering of his name. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
[vii] Sure, people continued making ukiyo-e prints in the Meiji Period. It wasn’t like New Year’s Day 1868, everything changed completely lol. But many Japanese art historians, especially those who specialize in ukiyo-e think there is a drastic drop in quality after Hiroshige’s death. That said, I’ve seen some great Meiji Era prints. The style changed, that’s all. Also, ukiyo-e has continued to influence Japanese artists to this very day when they want to emphasize a connection to their “Japaneseness.”
[viii] Or in the parlance of their time, “Oriental Art” – a term that has for some reason has gained a racist connotation for the past 15-20 years or so. I don’t use that term, but never really understood how it got the excess baggage. At any rate, the term Oriental is passé. I guess it was seen as lacking nuance between various Asian cultures – very much the way Van Gogh lacked any nuance in pretty much all of his crap art.
[ix] Who was pretty much a hack anyways, let’s be honest.
[x] Impression lolololol.
[xi] Impressionism… god, if there’s any other overrated genre, I’d like to know. Oh yeah. There is. 80’s hair metal!
[xii] Well, you come back to it every day if you’re obsessed with Edo and write a blog about the history of city. Or if you’re an art nerd. Or if you’re both.

Tokugawa Funerary Temples

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on May 27, 2013 at 12:33 am

Welcome to my New Series!

(update: sorry about the footnotes. when you click nothing happens. but if you scroll to the bottom of the article you can manually find the footnotes.)

The Tokugawa family crest - one of the most easily identifiable logos in the country.

The Tokugawa family crest – one of the most easily identifiable logos in the country.

There are two Tokugawa funerary temple complexes in Edo/Tōkyō and a third extra-ordinary[i] funerary temple complex in Nikkō. The clan had many branches and relatives and so there are others, but for this series’ purpose, we’re talking about the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa shōgun-ke, the male heads of the Tokugawa line established by the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

In the early Edo Period, two temple construction projects were started by the shōgunate which built major temple precincts in the north-east corner of Edo (Kan’ei-ji) and south-west corner of Edo (Zōjō-ji). The locations were determined by 風水 fū sui feng shui and conformed to standards of urban planning of the time. Feng shui says these directions are inauspicious and so temples are often built facing these directions to keep the bad influences from coming in. Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji served the duel purposes of protecting Edo Castle and thereby protecting the city of Edo. By enshrining the shōguns here, the Tokugawa could be thought to have been waging a spiritual battle against evil to protect the citizens of Edo even in death. All of the shōguns except for Ieyasu and Iemitsu are interred in these two precincts.





northeastern direction, unlucky



ura ki-mon

under demon-gate

southwestern direction, unlucky



In Japanese, this kind of temple is called 菩提寺 bodai-ji (family temple, literally Bodhi temple). Bodhi is a Buddhist term for “awakening” – the idea being that upon death, a person awakens to “enlightenment.”

Very little remains of Kan'ei-ji which became Ueno Park .

The main temple of Kan’eiji.
All of these buildings were destroyed in the Battle of Ueno (1868).
Later the area was turned into Ueno Park.

Shiba Daimon - The Great Gate of Shiba. The gate is still standing. But if you want to match the shots from the Edo Era, you'll probably get hit by a car.

Shiba Daimon – The Great Gate of Shiba.
The gate is still standing.
But if you want to match the shots from the Edo Era, you’ll probably get hit by a car.

A few more things about funerary temples

Each shōgun was given an 諡号 okurigō a Buddhist posthumous name. I don’t know a lot about Buddhism, but it seems like there are two kinds of Buddhist posthumous names, 戒名 kaimyō and 諡号 okurigō. The Emperor bestowed a name upon each shōgun upon his death. A kaimyō is pretty long[ii]. The okurigō is shorter. In the Tokugawa cases – as it ends in 院 in temple – this name could also double as a temple name. Each Tokugawa mausoleum was effectively a sub-temple of the main 菩提寺 bodai-ji family temple in which precinct it was built. The main gate to each mausoleum is called 勅額門 chokugaku mon imperial scroll gate. These gates would feature a plaque (chokugaku) supposedly hand written by the emperor (then embellished by artisans) which announced the name of the funerary temple.

Just to add to the confusion, there’s another classification of these posthumous names; 院号 ingō an ‘-in’ name[iii].

The Ueno Daibutsu. Usually when people think of "Big Buddhas," they think of Nara and Kamakura. Well, Edo had one, too. The head fell off in the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). The face is still on display in Ueno Park. Most Tokyoites have never heard of it.

The Ueno Daibutsu. Usually when people think of “Big Buddhas,” they think of Nara and Kamakura. Well, Edo had one, too. The head fell off in the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). The face is still on display in Ueno Park. Most Tokyoites have never heard of it.

Each Tokugawa mausoleum was an architectural gem compared to other graves of the time. These bodai-ji were sites of pilgrimages and veneration by commoner and daimyō alike. The mausolea of Ieyasu and Iemitsu in Nikkō were artistic wonders of their day as well as centers for Buddhist teaching.

For me, the most frustrating this about finding Tokugawa graves is that most of these structures in Edo/Tōkyō were wiped off the face of the earth during the firebombing of Tōkyō during WWII. Most of the blame lands on the Americans, but not all of it. The Japanese themselves destroyed much of Kan’ei-ji in the 上野戦争 Ueno Sensō the Battle of Ueno (literally the Ueno War), when the last pockets of hatamoto resistance made a stand against the new Meiji Army. Unfortunately for us, the samurai chose this symbolic Tokugawa stronghold as the place to make their last stand which ultimately resulted most of the temple complex being burnt to the ground. Most of the Tokugawa graves were spared, only to be destroyed in WWII.

The Kuromon - "Black Gate" of Kan'ei-ji. Imperial forces routed the shogitai (holed up in the temple precincts). The imperial army entered the area through this gate with fast breech-loading rifles and cannon. The shogitai were armed with swords and traditional weapons. This gate and the other structures that survived the Battle of Ueno are riddled with bullet holes that you can still see today -- even in this photograph!

The Kuromon – “Black Gate” of Kan’ei-ji. Imperial forces routed the shogitai (holed up in the temple precincts). The imperial army entered the area through this gate with fast breech-loading rifles and cannon. The shogitai were armed with swords and traditional weapons. This gate and the other structures that survived the Battle of Ueno are riddled with bullet holes that you can still see today — even in this photograph!


Where were the 15 Tokugawa Shōguns interred? 





of Mausoleum

Now where are the remains?


Tokugawa Ieyasu


法号安国院Hōgō Onkokuin

[iv], Kunōzan

Tōshō-gū, Nikkō

Excellent Condition


Excellent Condition



Tokugawa Hidetada


Daitokuin, Zōjō-ji


imperial scroll gate has been restored

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Iemitsu


Taiyūin ,


(now a sub-temple of Rin’nō-ji)


Tokugawa Ietsuna




only the imperial scroll gate remains

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Tsunayoshi


Eikyūin, Kan’ei-ji

Partially preserved
(usually closed to the public, but the scroll gate is usually accessible)



Tokugawa Ienobu


Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji


the 中門 nakamon gate remains and marks the entrance to the Tokugawa Cemetery

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Ietsugu




only the gate remains

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Yoshimune


Enshrined at Eikyūin as an austerity measure

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Ieshige



no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Ieharu



no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,





no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Ieyoshi


Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Iesada



no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Iemochi



no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Yoshinobu

Buried according to State Shintō, no okurigō.



no mausoleum


UPDATE: If click the links in the “Where are they located today” column, it will take you my article on their original mausolea and the condition thereof.

Zojoji's main temple as it looks today.  At dusk. Bad ass.

Zojoji’s main temple as it looks today.
At dusk.
Bad ass.

There’s a lot more to say about these places.

But first I want to explain a few points about my chart. When I first came to Japan, the Tokugawa Cemetery in Zōjō-ji was off limits except for during the cherry blossom season. In 2011, NHK ran a Taiga Drama series called based on the life of Tokugawa Hidetada’s wife (a daughter of Oda Nobunaga). Since 2011, Zōjō-ji has kept the Tokugawa Cemetery open.

Kan’ei-ji has been a bit douchey about not letting visitors in. In 2008, NHK ran a drama called Atsu-hime based on the life of the wife of Tokugawa Iesada. She was buried next to Iesada in Eikyōin. The temple didn’t open the Tokugawa graveyard to the public, but instead opted to put a plaque in front of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s imperial scroll gate that said she was buried inside. I’ve heard that once a year, the area is open to the public, but I have never had a chance to go inside myself.

Off Limits.  No shogun graves for you, biaaaatch.

Off Limits.
No shogun graves for you, biaaaatch.

Tokugawa Ieyasu & Tōshō-gū

An entire book could probably be written on this subject (and I’m sure there has been in Japanese), but I’m trying to be as concise as I can. That said, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Iemitsu’s graves are in the extra-ordinary locations. I want to talk about why these two guys are separate from the rest of the family.

Ieyasu died in retirement while keeping an eye on Hidetada, the second shogun[viii]. In his lifetime, the third shōgun, Iemitsu came into adulthood. At first, Ieyasu was interred at Kunōzan near his retirement castle in Sunpu. On the one year anniversary of Ieyasu’s death, Hidetada transported his remains to a new mortuary at Nikkō. The third generation shōgun, Iemitsu, who idolized Ieyasu, expanded the Nikkō site. The 4th shōgun, Ietsuna, expanded the site one more time to include enshrine Iemitsu next to his grandfather.

Along with sankin-kōtai, daimyō were expected to contribute financially to the construction of Ieyasu’s shrine, called 東照宮 Tōshō-gū (something like “Illustrious Eastern Prince”). The shōgunate conducted mandatory processions to the shrine via the Nikkō Highway. Since these processions could be quite taxing on the smaller domains, various Tōshō-gū were established to save travel costs. For example, both funerary temples in Edo had (and still have) Tōshō-gū. In Ueno Park, you can find Ueno Tōshō-gū and in Shiba Park, you can find Shiba Tōshō-gū. I’ve even seen portable Tōshō-gū in Hino! Basically, Tōshō-gū are located throughout the country[ix].

The first shrine I fell in love with. The beginning of my love affair with Japanese history. Ueno Toshogu. It's in terrible shape today, but I reckon that's what it looked like for most of the late Edo Period.

The first shrine I fell in love with.
The beginning of my love affair with Japanese history.
Ueno Toshogu. 

Since there were 15 Tokugawa shōguns, I will be writing 15 separate descriptions of each mausoleum.  Even though most of these sites have been destroyed, I think visiting them is still well worth the time. When I first became interested in Japanese History, I wished there had been some easy resource to answer all my questions about these places in English. Now 10 years later, there still ain’t shit written on the subject. So I’m just gonna go ahead and do it myself. I hope you enjoy this 16 part series. Yoroshiku o-negai shimasu.




One depressing indicator of how bad things are at Kan'ei-ji... Most of the stone lanterns and other stone debris that survived isn't kept at Kan'ei-ji. It's all stored in Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture. WTF&SMH.

One depressing indicator of how bad things are at Kan’ei-ji…
Most of the stone lanterns and other stone debris from Tokugawa Ieharu’s grave that survived isn’t kept at Kan’ei-ji. It’s all stored in Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture. WTF&SMH.

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[i] Extra-ordinary is not the same as extraordinary. For the record, extraordinary means “remarkable, great, noteworthy.” Extra-ordinary is a religious term and means “a deviation from the normal system, an exception to the rule.“

[ii] Kaimyō are long. Ieyasu’s kaimyō was 東照大権現安国院殿徳蓮社崇譽道和大居士 (with an alternate 安国院殿徳蓮社崇誉道和大居士 (I’m not going to attempt to transcribe those, sorry). His okurigō is 東照大権現, his mausoleum is 東照宮.

[iii] More about ingō later, but I think you’ll see the distinction is quite clear by the end of this article.

[iv] The other shōguns have ingō, names ending in in. Ieyasu’s shrines end in . This character implies that the person enshrined is a member of the imperial family. It can also mean just “shrine” but a connection to the imperial family might still be implied by the average person. However, Ieyasu did have an ingō. It is listed in the chart: Hōgō Onkokuin.

[v] The mausolea in Shiba were destroyed, but the metal and stone graves that housed the physical remains were consolidated into one area at Zōjō-ji, now called 徳川将軍家墓所 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Bōsho Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery. For many years this area was not open to the general public, but after the Taiga Drama it has remained open. There’s a permanent-looking ticket box now, so I think they plan to keep it open for a while.

[vi] I’m under the impression that the metal and stone 2-story pagoda style graves that housed the physical remains in Ueno were moved and consolidated in the former grounds of Tsunayoshi’s grave for convenience’s sake. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm this because this cemetery is generally not open to the public. But the area is now called 徳川将軍家墓所 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Bōsho Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery.

[vii] Yoshinobu, the last shōgun, lived his life in a kind of voluntary exile from public life after abdicating from the position of shōgun. He is buried with his wife in a Shintō grave typical of that era in Yanaka cemetery. There are other Tokugawas relatives interred at Yanaka, but for whatever reason, Yoshinobu was not included among the other shōguns. I’m still researching to find out why, but one source I found suggested that because he was from Mito, which was famous for its loyalty to the Emperor mixed with the rise of State Shintō, he opted for a Shintō style interment.

[viii] It’s said that Ieyasu was disappointed with Hidetada. Hidetada supposedly married for love (a sign of weakness in Ieyasu’s eyes) and he arrived late to the Battle of Sekigahara (utterly unacceptable). But because of Hidetada’s age, Ieyasu was forced to keep him around to establish a stable dynasty. The next youngest son would have become a puppet.

[ix] Wikipedia claims that there were 500 Tōshō-gū in the Edo Period and that there are about 130 now. I’ll buy that for a dollar.

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