A view from Nihonbashi in the central district of Old Edo. Edo Castle and Mt. Fuji are visible in the distance. A variety of bustling townsmen are on the bridge in the foreground.
This edition is a reproduction of Hokusai’s Edo Nihonbashi [Nihonbashi Bridge in Edo]. Not only has the print been made in modern times, the block prints are not originals. Small details in the print, such as the specific construction of Edo Castle, the faces of the crowd, and the curved edges of the shape of the clouds, vary slightly from the original.
Most original editions of this print do not have a blue-to-white bokashi gradation in the water of the canal, but only a dark blue bokashi in the background near the bridge in the middle distance. However, like original prints, the key block (shitahan) of this reproduction is printed in Prussian blue (bero).
The quality of the paper of this print is also worth noting. It is much thicker than Edo period prints and does not have a noticeable grain, unlike those used for making ukiyo-e, which had a horizontal grain. The paper was made with a mica-like substance (unmo), so that the print faintly glitters. This is especially evident in the white spaces of the print, such as the sky and the facades of the warehouses. It can even be discerned in the round sedge hats (kasa) of the passersby in the foreground. The glitter also shows through in the foliage near the castle.
The Nihonbashi Bridge was a vital transportation hub of Edo because it was the point where five major roads converged, including the Tōkaidō and the Kiso Road, which connected Edo and Kyoto. The bridge was built in 1602 in wood, although today it has been rebuilt in stone. Depictions from the Nihonbashi area generally included three elements: the bridge itself spanning the canal, Edo Castle, and Mt. Fuji. Hokusai has combined them all in this print, although its unusual cropping barely leaves any part of the bridge visible. Not more than an onion-shaped capital on a single bridge post in the center of the print is discernable. Both its and canal’s width have been exaggerated; the bridge spanned only 154 feet across the canal. Below Nihonbashi, not visible here, was the city’s fish market Uo-ichi. It appears that the porters and townspeople on Nihonbashi at bottom of the piece, however, are selling fruits in baskets, perhaps persimmons or mikan oranges. White warehouses (kura) line the canal. Crests of the companies that owned the storehouses are visible on four of the buildings on the right. In the mid-distance is the bridge Ikkokubashi, which was smaller than Nihonbashi.
This view of Fuji is distinguished by Hokusai’s effort to mimic Western-style linear perspective. However, this attempt is combined with Japanese conventions for showing distance: namely, the suyarigasumi cloud patterns that partially obscure the view in the distance. In other prints in this series as well, Hokusai attempts to combine other elements of European art into his designs.
- Leah Justin-Jinich, Summer 2014