Though the smallest and least populous station on the Tokaido, Shono was immortalized through Hiroshige’s rendition in the Hoeido Tokaido. Like Kanbara, Shono served Hiroshige less as an opportunity to capture observed reality and more as an opportunity for compositional exploration. The result is one of the most well-known designs of ukiyo-e. The viewer can feel the power of the wind as it bends each bough and understand the menacing darkness of the sky through shades of grey. The stormy scene bursts to life in the intersection of diagonals. As rain descends in heavy, insistent sheets, two travelers flee to the shelter of the town. Heads lowered, they braced their hats and umbrellas against the downpour. Four other travelers run ahead, straw cape pulled high on his shoulders, two porters carry a kago (palanquin). As the kago’s covering whips in the storm, one catches just a glimpse of the passenger within.
Other impressions of this print can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the British Museum.
Born in Edo as Tokutaro Ando, Hiroshige grew up in a minor samurai family. His father belonged to the firefighting force assigned to Edo Castle. It is here that Hiroshige was given his first exposure to art: legend has it that a fellow fireman tutored him in the Kano school of painting, though Hiroshige’s first official teacher was Rinsai. Though Hiroshige tried to join Utagawa Toyokuni’s studio, he was turned away. In 1811, young Hiroshige entered an apprenticeship with the celebrated Utagawa Toyohiro. After only a year, he was bestowed with the artist name Hiroshige. He soon gave up his role in the fire department to focus entirely on painting and print design. During this time he studied painting, intrigued by the Shijo school. Hiroshige’s artistic genius went largely unnoticed until 1832.
In Hiroshige’s groundbreaking series of woodblock prints, The 53 Stations of the Tokaido (1832-1833), Hiroshige captured the journey along the Tokaido road, the highway connecting Edo to Kyoto, the imperial capital. With the Tokugawa Shogunate relaxing centuries of age-old restrictions on travel, urban populations embraced travel art and Hiroshige became one of the most prominent and successful ukiyo-e artists. He also produced kacho-e (bird-and-flower pictures) to enormous success. In 1858, at the age of 61, he passed away as a result of the Edo cholera epidemic.
Hiroshige’s prints continue to convey the beauty of Japan and provide insight into the everyday life of its citizens. The appeal of his tender, lyrical landscapes was not restricted to the Japanese audience. Hiroshige’s work had a profound influence on the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists of Europe: Toulouse-Lautrec was fascinated with Hiroshige’s daring diagonal compositions and inventive use of perspective, Van Gogh literally copied two prints from Hiroshige’s famed series, 100 Famous Views of Edo in oil paint.