1 Nihonbashi (Eisen)
The Nihonbashi Bridge was the starting point of "ichiri-zuka" mileposts (ichiri = 2.44 miles) installed along highways around the country in 1604 (9th year of Keicho).
Sunrise over Edo. View of the canal with the sun, cut by streaks of mist, rising behind the houses, crowds by the bridge, and coolies pushing a cart laden with bales over it.
2 Itabashi (Eisen)
The place name of Itabashi came from the Itabashi Bridge over the Shakujii River. This is a humorous scene where a palanquin bearer is touting a travelling couple, probably man and wife, for use of palanquins but the couple is hurrying away, pretending not to hear him.
A man shoeing a horse by a roadside hut; on the left, the first houses of the village.
3 Warabi (Eisen)
Ferry over the Toda River. A large ferry-boat laden with passengers and a horse being poled across the river, travellers and horses waiting on the further bank; tow herons flying over the boat.
4 Urawa (Eisen)
The mountain smoking at left is Mt. Asama. This volcano is actually 120 km away from here and therefore much smaller. The town on the other side of the bridge may be the post town of Omiya. A packhorse driver is leading a horse.
5 Omiya (Eisen)
Omiya means "Grand Shrine." In fact, Omiya had the Korigawa Shrine, which was the largest of Shinto shrines in the province of Musashi. This post town was known to have the greatest number of "honjins" and "waki-honjins" (inns appointed for daimyos and their troupes) on the Kisokaido Highway. Mt. Fuji, showing its beautiful figure in the picture, is actually about 100 km away from here.
6 Ageo (Eisen)
The Kisokaido Highway, which took an inland route of this country, first crossed the great plain of Kanto. At the station of Ageo located about 31 km from the Nihonbashi Bridge, the road was still flat and straight. The vertical flags standing in the precincts of the Grand Shrine of Kamo are advertising "Takenouchi" and "Hoeidoh", the publishers of these prints. The Shinto Temple of Kamo, with a rest house outside the grounds, and peasants winnowing rice in front of it.
7 Okegawa (Eisen)
The post town of Okegawa prospered as a centre of safflower-growing. On this autumn day, a traveller is speaking to a peasant woman busy threshing "Nakasendo wheat" outside a thatched hut. Probably he is asking directions to the Kano-Tenjin Shrine which had famous heated mineral baths curative of many diseases.
8 Konosu (Eisen)
The location is some point in today's Fukiage township near the city of Gyoda, which used to be a castle town known for the production of Japanese-style socks.
A distant view of Fuji seen across fields, and porters passing along; on the left a pilgrim in a large basket-hat.
9 Kumagaya (Eisen)
In the Kamakura period, this area was the fief of Kumagaya-Jiro Naozane who served under Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199), the first Minamoto Shogun. The name of this post town came from his name.
A traveller arriving at the cross-roads, at the entrance to the village, in a kago, and another, on foot, chatting to him; on the left, a woman serving two coolies at a wayside tea-house, and behind a horse feeding with his nose in a bucket. On the extreme right a road-direction post, and behind it a shrine, with a stone figure inside and a candle burning in front of it; the embankment stretching away behind in the distance uphill.
10 Fukaya (Eisen)
A group of women, guided by one leading with a lantern, passing along the street.
This is a scene of the entertainment quarters in the post town of Fukaya. In painting this picture, Eisen, who was known more as a painter of beautiful women than as a landscapist, did justice to his fame. The travellers and the houses lining the street in the background are simply dark figures in the dusk of the evening. The individual carriages of five prostitutes walking along the street are depicted by a vivid touch.
11 Honjo (Eisen)
The Kisokaido Highway became gradually hilly from here on. The stone lantern in the foreground was installed with collection money. The contributors inscribed on the lantern included such big names as Issa the haiku poet and Raiden the sumo wrestler. The mountains in the background may be Mt. Akagi, Mt. Haruna and Mt. Myogi from right to left. Crossing the Kanna River, travellers entered Joshu province.
The river was called the Nukui River or the Karasu River. The mountain looking like Mt. Fuji in the left-hand background is Mt. Akagi. The travellers trudging along in the twilight look tired out after a day's journey.
13 Kuragano (Eisen)
The post town of Kuragano was surrounded by the Tone River, the Karasu River and the Kabura River. When the water was high, there were boat services down to Edo. Here the Nikko-reihei-shido Road, used by the offering missions of the Imperial Court to visit the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, branched off from the Kisokaido Highway. In this picture, Eisen combined figure painting with a landscape.
The city of Takasaki today has Mt. Haruna, Lake Haruna and many other sights to see, including a number of ancient burial mounds and the Daruma Temple. In the Edo period, it was already a fairly large castle town of Matsudaira Ukyonosuke holding a fief yielding 82,000 koku of rice. In the picture, a beggar is begging a travelling couple for alms, with the Karasu River and Mt. Haruna in the background.
15 Itabana (Eisen)
The place is near the entrance to the post town of Itahana. Stone images of "Bato-Kannon" (Horse-headed Kannon, the guardian god of horses) and "Dosojin" (the travellers guardian deity) stand quietly along the highway, and the river flows with an abundance of clear water. Travellers in straw or other raincoats are hurrying through the snow. This picture is well-known as the "Snow Scene of Itahana" of Eisen.
Annaka was a castle town of Itakura Iyonomori commanding a fief of 30,000 koku. This feudal lord was famous for having his retainers run marathon races up to the Usui Pass during the Ansei era. A little further on beyond the slope of this picture is a famous stretch of the Kisokaido flanked with magnificent rows of Japanese cedars, which are today a natural monument of the country.
The post town of Matsuida was at the foot of Mt. Myogi, one of the three famous mountains of Jomo province. Between here and Sakamoto was the "Usui-no-seki", which was among the four most important checking stations in Japan. For those who wanted to avoid this checkpoint, there was a byway called "Hime-kaido" (Female Road) leading to Oiwake over the mountains. Even today, the town retains the air of the old-time post town.
18 Sakamoto (Eisen)
The post town of Sakamoto was located between the Checking Station of Usui to the east and the treacherous Usui Pass to the west. As sung in a packhorse driver's song, there was heavy traffic of travellers through this town on the way to or from Edo.
Karuizawa developed as the first post town in the province of Shinshu where travellers could take a rest after a long ascent of the Usui Pass (about 1,180 m above sea level). The street, called "Karuizawa-Ginza" today, was the post town. Mt. Asama and houses are already darkened, and the dim moonlight and the red of the bonfire are impressive.
20 Kutsukake (Eisen)
Kutsukake, called Naka-karuizawa today, prospered as one of the three Asama post towns on the Kisokaido Highway and also as the stage before heading for Kusatsu in the province of Joshu. The houses visible on the right may be the post town, and the river to the right may be part of the Yugawa River.
21 Oiwake (Eisen)
Oiwake packhorse driver's songs originated here. At the junction of the Kisokaido and Hokkoku Highways, this post town was always busy. At 1,000 meters above sea level, Oiwake was also the highest point of the Kisokaido Highway. Like Mt. Fuji, Mt. Asama is a conical volcano with beautiful slopes spreading at the foot. Onioshidashi, a rugged lava field on the northern side is a famous sight-seeing spot.
The stretch of highway leading to Odai was through a desolate bushy field at the foot of Mt. Asama. Today this part is called Nishi-karuizawa. "Hime-no-yado" (Stage for Princesses), was the nickname of Odai because wives of princes and daimyos often took up their lodgings here.
23 Iwamurata (Eisen)
Iwamurata was the castle town of the Lord of Naito Bungonomori having a 15,000-koku fief. At this small post town, the Kisokaido intersected with the Saku-Koshu Road. This picture is considered a unique piece among the Kiso Highway Series. The scene is a fight among blind men.
Shionata, on the eastern shore of the Chikuma River, was the only stage in the province of Shinshu where travellers often met with interruptions of ferry service. The river ran broad here, and travellers had to be ferried across it. A beauty spot here was the Fudo Fall with abundant clear water, where worn-out travellers had a moment of relaxation.
The post town of Yawata was only 2 km from Shionata. The distance between the stages was the shortest on the Kisokaido Highway. Besides, Yawata has the smallest number of inns among all the post towns on the Kisokaido. The place of this picture is probably about Hyakuzawa which was the middle point between Yawata and Mochizuki.
In the post town of Mochizuki, our attention is drawn to the two-story houses lining the street with latticed facade and projecting upper-story part. To the northeast of the post town was Mimakigahara used as Imperial pastures during the Heian and Kamakura periods (9th through 14th centuries). The scene depicts the ascent of Uryu-zaka Hill Road between Yawata and Mochizuki.
The post town of Ashida was in a mountainous area. The landscape depicted is the Kasadori Pass on the way from Ashida to Nagakubo. The bold composition and deformation employed have something in common with modern paintings. The Kasadori Pass is said to have commanded a magnificent view of Mt. Asama.
Past the Kasadori Pass, travellers walked along a gently downhill road to reach the post town of Nagakubo. This was a bustling junction stage with the Wada Pass to the south and the Zenkoji Road branching out form the Kisokaido Highway. In the centre of the picture is the Wada Bridge across the Yoda River.
This was one of the hardest parts to pass on the Kisokaido Highway. The forbidding Wada Pass (1,651 m above sea level) is seen under deep snow. Today you can visit an inn with beautiful latticework restored as the Historic Road Museum "Kawachiya" and a honjin inn reconstructed into the "Nakasendo Wada-juku Honjin" museum.
The post town of Shimosuwa prospered as the sole hot spring resort on the Kisokaido and also as the intersection with the Koshu Highway. Nearby were the Grand Shrines of Suwa well-known for the "Onbashira" (Sacred Pillar Erecting) festival. The picture is a detailed scene of customers taking a meal in an inn. We have it on hearsay that the man facing away is Hiroshige himself.
31 Shiojiri (Eisen)
Lake Suwa is frozen over. It is famous for the phenomenon called "Omiwatari" (God's Crossing) in which the ice breaks in midwinter forming a ridge across the lake. The Shiojiri Pass (1,052 m above sea level) commands a panoramic view of snow-capped Mt. Fuji in the centre and the Yatsugatake mountain range to the left.
Tradition has it that Seba, or "Washing Horse", got its name when the retainers of Kiso Yoshinaka (1154-1184) washed his horse in the clear water of the Ohta river. The round moon beyond the willows is casting a pale light on the surface of the river, on which a sampan is moving soundlessly. This is considered one of the best works in the Kiso Highway Series, and it is also one of Hiroshige's masterpieces.
Motoyama is famous as the birthplace of soba (buckwheat vermicelli noodles). Part of the post town still remains along the street today. Two woodcutters are taking a rest and having a smoke under a huge pine tree stretching across the picture.
Cross the Sakurazawa Bridge about 3 km from Motoyama, and you will find a monument proclaiming "The Kiso Route: South from Here." Niegawa is the northernmost of the 11 post towns on the Kisokaido Highway through the valley of Kiso. The signboards in front of the house carry the names of the woodcutter, printer and publisher of this ukiyoe series. The number "34" on the rump of the horse is the stage number of Niegawa.
35 Narai ( Eisen)
This post town was located 935 m above sea level. There were hundreds of inns for travellers, many of whom decided to put up for a night here before the crossing of the Torii Pass. Even today, there is a stretch (about 1 km) of street preserving the appearance of the post town. "Oroku Comb" written on the signboard was the speciality of this area having originated at Yabuhara.
36 Yabuhara (Eisen)
This is a sight at the Torii Pass (about 1,197 m above sea level) before the post town of Yabuhara. From here the Hida Road branched off, crossed the Nomugi Pass and led to Hida Takayama. At the root of the pine in the picture is the Suzuri (Inkstone) Spring, with which Kiso Yoshinaka is said to have written a petition. The mountain in the distance is Mt. Ontake.
Miyanokoshi is rich in historic remains in connection with Kiso Yoshinaka, who spent his childhood and youth here. At the Hataage Hachimangu Shrine, Kiso Yoshinaka rose in arms and marched against the Taira (1180). In this excellent piece of work, the close-range view is silhouetted against the distant view shaded off superbly so as to express the night fog.
Located in the middle of the Kiso Valley, Fukushima is the administrative and economic centre of this area. It was a key post town on the Kisokaido Highway having one of the four most important checking stations in the country (together with Usui, Hakone and Nii). At the middle point of the Kisokaido Highway, Fukushima bustled with people including those who were climbing Mt. Ontake for religious worship.
In the neighbourhood of Agematsu are five of the "Eight Scenic Spots of Kiso." The picture depicts the Ono Falls, which are one of them. In the Kiso River which flows by this post town is "Nezameno-toko" with a great number of gigantic monstrously shaped rocks creating a breathtaking sight.
The tradesman's house has a street-side cover and a tank containing water drawn from a mountain stream. The place is said to be inside the compound of the famous Joshoji Temple just outside the town limits. Mendicant Zen priests wearing large braided hats are taking shelter from a sudden shower. Against the shaded background, the pelting rain seems to be creating an amusing moment for the travellers.
41 Nojiri (Eisen)
The "Seven Bends of Nojiri" were designed to protect the town against enemies. Soon after the Joshoji Temple, the Iwade Kannon at left in the picture, dubbed the Kiyomizu Temple of Kiso, comes into view. Further away, the Inagawa Bridge is visible.
From Nojiri, travellers had to pass through a narrow perilous road along the Kiso River before entering Midono. This post town was as prosperous as Tsumago, which came next. At the Tokakuji Temple, there is an image of Buddha sculpted by Enkyu, a famous priest sculptor who travelled around the country with the aim of creating 120,000 Buddhist statues. The red and white ume (apricot) flowers indicate the arrival of spring.
Today Tsumago is designated as an "important traditional structure group preservation area" together with Narai-shuku. From olden times, this stage was an important intersection with another highway branching to the Ina Valley. The scene is at the Magome Pass.
44 Magome (Eisen)
There is the Magome Pass (801 m above sea level) between Tsumago and Magome, which are 8 km apart from each other. From the pass, Mt. Ena can be seen in the distance due south. The post town of Magome is below the pass. This is where Shimazaki Toson, a famous Meiji novelist, was born and is also the stage of his masterwork "Before Dawn."
At the Jikkoku Pass, the province of Shinano ends and the province of Mino begins. Standing by the road here is a Basho monument with his haiku poem bidding farewell to Kiso. On the outskirts of the post town is the Inoji Temple famous for "Raccoon Dog's Ointment." In the picture, a daimyos procession is moving down the pass road and is about to cross the Ochiai River before entering Ochiai.
There are two pictures of Nakatsugawa. "Nakatsugawa on Rainy Day" with the seal of the publisher "Kinjudo" is said to have been the earlier of the two prints. This version, existing in a smaller number, has greater scarcity value. The picture is considered one of the best among Hiroshige's many rainy landscapes.
The regular "Rokusai" market was held here on the 3rd and 8th of each month, gathering a large number of people including those from Kiso. Nakatsugawa was the largest post town on the Kisokaido Highway, but the picture does not show that. Seen from the bridge over the Yotsume River, the town nestles smugly at the foot of a mountain. In the foreground, travellers and townspeople are walking leisurely along the highway.
The post town of Oi, which was at a strategic point of traffic, is said to have formerly been Oi-eki on the ancient Tosando Highway. This picture shows the hilly Jusan Pass between Oi and Okute.
Past this post town, travellers walked on a flat road along the mountain with exposed rocks. From the Biwa Pass between Okute and Hosokute, they could see Mt. Ibuki, Mt. Hakusan and the Bay of Ise far away in the distance.
When the Kisokaido Highway was opened, the post town of Hosokute was not present. It was later added, however, because the mountain road of 16 km between Okute and Mitake was considered too long for a single leg. In this picture of a well-balanced composition, we are looking down at the entrance to the stage of Hosokute from a hilltop.
Mitake was a post town that had developed in front of the famous Gankoji Temple. To get to this station, travellers trudged along a gently-sloping mountain path. Today we can witness the vestiges of the old-time highway in the mileposts and stone-pavement slope along the road. The inn advertising itself as "Kichin-yado" (cheap lodging house) on the shoji screen served also as the Teahouse of Juppongi.
The post town of Fushimi was born about 90 years after the others. This was a busy town with a port named Niimura on the Kiso River where rice paid as land tax was loaded on the barges, which would sail downstream to Inuyama or Kuwana. During the Edo period, there were rows of pine trees along the highway.
Here the Hida Road and the Gujo Road branched off from the Kisokaido Highway. Being the seat of the magistrate's office of the fief of Owari, Ota prospered as the political and economic centre controlling the area from Ena to Unuma. The Kiso River converging with the Hida River here, the river became wider and the "Crossing at Ota" was counted as one of the hardest parts to pass on the highway.
53 Unuma (Eisen)
From Ota, travellers went past the Iwaya Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) and the Utou Pass before entering the post town of Unuma. From the Kamakura period, this had been an important point of traffic connecting Mino with Owari. The existing castle of Inuyama has the oldest dungeon in Japan, which is designated as a national treasure.
From Unuma to Kano, the road was flat. The distance between the stages was as long as 17 km. With the Castle of Kano, this post town was the sole castle town on the Mino leg of the Kisokaido Hiroshige painted a well-ordered feudal lord (daimyos) procession here.
55 Kodo (Eisen)
At Goudo, there was a ferry for crossing the Nagara River. The picture depicts a scene of cormorant bird fishing, which is famous even today. Eisen introduced brush touch into the print, imitating the style of Katsushika Hokusai. This is considered one of Eisen's masterpieces in the Kiso Highway Series.
The name of a temple became the name of this post town. The Mieji Temple is said to have been built to offer prayers for protection from the flooding of the three major rivers of Kiso, Nagara and Ibi. In this lyrical scene, a traveller is in conversation with a peasant, and sparrows are flying home in the dusk after sunset.
Akasaka was a bustling post town as the diverging point of the Tanigumi Pilgrimage Road and as the port of Akasaka for river traffic on the Kuise. All-night lantern posts still remain along the river, which lighted the waterway at night. In the evening during the rainy season, people are said to have enjoyed the sight of Genji fireflies (Luciola cruciata) while sailing down the river in firefly-viewing boats.
The Mino Road branched off here and led to Miya-shuku on the Tokaido Highway. Tarui grew in front of the Grand Shrine of Nangu, which was the most famous of the shrines in the province of Mino. A daimyo procession placed in the centre, the composition of this picture is symmetrical.
Sekigahara was a major post town at the crossroads of the Kisokaido, Hokkoku and Ise Highways. The place name came from "Fuwa-no-seki" (Checking Station of Fuwa), one of the three most important checkpoints in old Japan, ranking with Arachi of Echizen province and Suzuka of Ise province. This is also the place where the famous Battle of Sekigahara was fought between the eastern and western armies in 1600.
The signpost reads "Oumi-Mino Border" marking the border between the province of Oumi to the west and the province of Mino to the east. The sign "Nemonogatari-yurai" may have something to do with the popular "Mino Oumi Nemonogatari (Soft Nothings)" written by Jippensha Ikku (1775-1831).
From here on, the Kisokaido Highway runs through the province of Oumi. Kashiwabara is well-known as the producing center of moxa used in moxa cautery (a kind of Oriental medical treatment). Apparently, the stores in the picture deal in medical herbs. The signs "Kintoki Rice Cake" and "Sake and Refreshments" mean the diversified operation of the store. The store under the style of "Kameya" is still operating as "Ibukido" today.
Samegai has the famous sights of "Three Waters and Four Rocks." The Three Waters are the spring water of Isame, the Juo-sui water and the Saigyo-sui water, and the Four Rocks are the Yamatotakeru-no-mikoto Koshikake rock, the Kurakake (Saddle Hanging) rock, the Kani (Crab) rock and the Myojin Yoko rock. The scene depicts the neighborhood the Six Teahouses where daimyo processions often stopped to take a rest.
A little over 3 km from Samekai is the post town of Banba. This is an honest rendering of the post town itself, a rare case among the Kiso Highway Series pictures. "Iseya" written on a signboard under the eaves is the business name of the print publisher, and "Utagawa" is advertising Utagawa Hiroshige himself.
The name of Toriimoto came from the torii (Shinto shrine archway) of the Grand Shrine of Taga in Takamiya. Though the Kisokaido Highway (Oumi Road) always ran some distance away from Lake Biwa, the sight of the lake in the distance from the Surihari Pass was a scenic masterpiece.
Takamiya prospered as a post town near the Grand Shrine of Taga dedicated to the god of longevity. This town was also known as the producing center of hemp cloth in Takamiya stripes. This picture is a realistic landscape of the post town and the mountain range of Suzuka in the middle braced by a large pine tree on each side.
The river is the Echi River, and the bridge is the Miyuki Bridge today. The signpost reading "Toll Free" may indicate that people could cross this bridge without charge because it was one installed there temporarily. On the opposite side of the river is Mt. Kannonji (Kinugake) at left, and beyond it are the remains of Azuchi Castle.
On a flat land with an abundance of waters and greenery, travelers went on their way much more easily around the post town of Musa. They are now crossing a makeshift bridge made of two riverboats tied together across a stream in the Hino River.
In the picture is a series of tea houses near the post town of Moriyama. The mountain beyond may be Mt. Mikami, which is called "Mt. Fuji of Oumi." This is a spring-time highway scene with cherry blossoms in full bloom. With only two stages remaining on the Kiso Highway, travel is nearing its end.
Kusatsu was the post town where the Kiso Highway and the Tokaido Highway converged. A threesome of women in light travel attire are walking away, chatting with each other. A young wife with a towel wrapped around her head is crossing a small bridge, a parasol on a shoulder and a caller's present in one hand.
Otsu is the final stage on the Kisokaido Highway. This town has many slopes. From the busy "Hatcho-dori" street, Lake Biwa is visible in the distance. Kyoto is just beyond the hill of Ousaka. The signboard reading "Zen" means that this picture completes the series of Kiso Highway ukiyoe prints.