This Life of Hiroshige by Professor Yone Noguchi is taken from the small booklet Hiroshige and Japanese Landscapes published by Board of Tourist Industry Japanese Government Railways, 1936.
LIFE OF HIROSHIGE BY PROF. YONE NOGUCHI
Hiroshige was born in the ninth year of Kwansei, 1797, when Utamaro, a great painter of female beauty and of the harem, had just finished the work on which his present fame rests. During the regime of the eleventh Shogun of that period, the times were speedily relaxing into an ephemeral epicureanism. Hiroshige's birth-place was the compound of the firebrigades at Yayosugashi, Yedo. Here, his father, Genyemon, lived as one of the officials, who, after serving twenty-five years, resigned the post to Hiroshige when the boy was but thirteen years old. At this time Hiroshige lost his parents almost simultaneously. The work at the office must have been nothing more than nominal that even a boy of thirteen could manage it, and at the same time pursue the leisurely study of art which Hiroshige had already begun. This was because the fire-brigades to which he belonged had only to attend to the Shogun's castle where fires occurred but seldom. Besides, although wearing two swords, people of Hiroshige's class were but small and insignificant.
Hiroshige held the post till he was twenty-seven years old, when he
turned it over to Nakajiro, his son or uncle (the relationship is not
certain). Leaving for good the house which Nakajiro had established, Hiroshige
started independently a branch of the family in the profession of the
fine arts. Before he was admitted as a pupil to Toyohiro's studio in 1812,
when he was sixteen, Hiroshige had already shown his precocious talent
in a scroll entitled
Procession of the Luchu Islanders, which
he had drawn from life when Hiroshige was a boy of ten. This appears certain,
because in 1806, according to an authentic record, the Shogunate government
of Yedo received an official visit from an ambassador bringing tribute
from the Luchu Islands. When the present writer saw this historical scroll
some years ago, he was at first surprised at Hiroshige's ability, certainly
remarkable for his age. Then he felt sorry that Hiroshige was obliged
to suffer a restraint of twenty-five years before he could establish his
name in public.
It is said that Hiroshige wished at first to become a pupil of Toyokuni and not of Toyohiro, but because he already had too many pupils, Toyokuni refused him. It is not without interest, however, to muse on the possible outcome had Hiroshige ever been received by Toyokuni, and duly impressed by his platitudes, if not vulgarity, in superficial arabesque making. Of course there is nothing more foolish than to think that anything could have made a successful Kunisada (Toyokuni the Third) of him, even though, born to a corrupt age in holiday mood, he was charmed by the stage and actors. Among the extant work of his earliest period there are found, even today, a number of actor-prints. No one would deny, I believe, the happiness of Hiroshige's association with Toyohiro, (1) who was not aiming at popularity, and certainly was not in Toyokuni's class, and who therefore had something identical with Hiroshige in temperament. Moreover, what pleased the youthful Hiroshige most, I think, was that Toyohiro never used on him his master's hammer of discipline, but watched patiently over the youth's development.
Hiroshige Wakagaki (Hiroshige's Early Work) by
Tatsujiro Nakamura, 1925, contains many female figures in
Soto Sugata Hakkei (Eight Views with Figures, Indoors and Outdoors)
Goku Saishiki Imayo Utsushiye (Modern Images Warm-coloured),
both produced about 1822. In these the influence of Yeizan, or Yeisen,
is clear. But as far as the landscapes, flowers and birds are concerned,
and which Hiroshige produced at the time of the Toto Meisho series in
the Kawaguchi edition, about 1831, the influence we can trace in them
is that of the Hokusai-school artists, or possibly of Yeisen. Since these
prints of natural, subjects would never have appeared under the influence
of the Toyokuni School. Toyohiro was a suitable teacher to Hiroshige,
if indeed he needed one at all. But as Toyohiro's student, Hiroshige was
an interesting rebel, or
black sheep who received but little
direct influence from his teacher.
When Toyohiro passed away in 1831, Hiroshige was asked to succeed the teacher as Toyohiro the Second, but he refused with thanks, preferring to pursue his own independent life. Although there is no complete catalogue of the work of his whole life, it is estimated by Minoru Uchida that the total number of individual pieces would exceed eight thousand, of which some five thousand and five hundred pieces are colour-prints, large or small. Hence, it may be seen what a prolific painter he was. There is reason of course to say that if his force and energy had been used more scrupulously, he would have become a still more distinguished artist. Admitting that the unprincipled spirit of the time made him produce careless work, and to repeat his subjects again and again, Hiroshige's vitality was certainly something-amazing.
I can imagine that the primary need with him was how to pour out his lyrical mood untramelled, with his thought about subject-matter as only secondary. The same scenery appealed to him quite differently at different times, according to the situation and his mood. It was not that Hiroshige drew his pictures at random on the same subject with a different approach, but that he used the same subject when it was diffused with a new mood or emotion. Consequently, there are in his pictures great variations in atmosphere. What we see in them therefore is Hiroshige's personality and not a scenic photograph. Besides, since they are colour-prints made by hand, one cannot expect them to be uniform, even when they treat the same subject. The pictorial effect depends more or less on chance.
As with other artists of the Ukiyoye School, little is known of Hiroshige's
life. Whether or not he left the firemen's compound by Yayosugashi for
some other place, when he resigned his official post, is not recorded.
By 1840 or 1841 he had lived in Ogacho Street, and afterwards moved to
Tokiwacho Street, and still later, in 1849, to Nakabashi Kano-shinmichi,
the place where finally he died, loyal to the heart of the city of Yedo.
Unlike the Yedo people of the time, who imagined the western side of the
Hakone Mountains, some ninety miles from Yedo, to be a dark desert where
goblins or cannibals lived, Hiroshige was fond of distant journeyings.
Some of the travelling diaries he jotted clown between sake-cups and his
favourite dishes at roadside taverns (for he was a city man with epicurean
tastes), remain in the
Diary of the Journey (the major part
of it lost by fire in 1923), the
Diary of the Kanoyama Temple Journey
Diary of the Journey into the Provinces Awa and Kazusa,
the Hokku poems or humorous Uta verses which make the diaries precious.
Among artists of the popular school who were uncultured, although not
actually illiterate, Hiroshige was an exception because of his literary
knowledge and tastes. He was a man of facile pen, for in the diaries are
apt descriptions and occasional snaps of cynicism, all of them delightful
because they are casual and informal. Had he pursued literature with the
assiduity that he espoused art, he would undoubtedly have become a writer
or poet. Although, as, with any phraseology or puns which are ephemeral,
and therefore difficult to translate into English, the following poems
Kyoka Momo-chidori will indicate his usual. vein :
Putting aside the moon and snow,
How delightful it is to live roundly
With a head more round
Than a dumpling round and round!
The verse alludes to the common saying, Hama yori dango, meaning literally
A dumpling is better than a flower. Of course it treats with
both satisfaction and mockery the author's own shaven head. Utashige was
Hiroshige's name as a humorous poet. He sometimes signed this name to
Harimaze-ye (mixed prints of small size) or Sensha-fuda (visiting cards
to shrines or temples) or illustrated books of lyrical drama. Also, some
of the famous view-prints produced after 1839 bear the name of Utashige.
Hiroshige married twice. His first wife, doubtless a typical woman,
chaste and dutiful, whose sagacity assisted Hiroshige to tide over many
financial difficulties, passed away in October 1839, when he was forty-three.
A touching story is told in the
Biographies of the Ukiyoye Artists
of the Utagawa School, by Kyosin Iijima, that once she raised her
husband's travelling expenses for sight-sketching by secretly selling
her clothes and ornamental combs. It is fortunate, however, that this
devoted wife knew something of the better days into which Hiroshige was
slowly entering. When he took Oyasu, a daughter of Kayemon, a farmer of
Niinomura village in Yenshu province, for his second wife is not recorded
anywhere. She was sixteen years younger than her husband, and a woman
of both constancy and spirit. She died on the second of October, 1876,
at the age of sixty-four, having survived Hiroshige by eighteen years.
Though not always comfortable financially, Hiroshige was not exactly
poverty-stricken, for in the closing years of his life he lived in a house
of his own building, a presentable two-storied affair of five rooms. He
had, however, borrowed money for it, and he worried on his deathbed over
the payment of the debt. It is also hardly believable that he could not
support a small family like his own when he drew, according to the estimate
of Mr. Uchida, an average of two pictures a day throughout his life. But
Hiroshige was careless and free in money matters, and no discredit to
the Yedo-man's qualification, whether proud or foolish, of
money to stay in the pocket overnight. Again, as is seen from an
extant diary in which his diet is minutely described, he was an epicure,
fond of dishes not necessarily rich but oddly flavoured. It goes without
saying that he loved sake, though he was not a drunkard. Oyasu, Hiroshige's
second wife, shared this taste for the Cup.
Hiroshige was indeed a man wealthy in soul, though not in purse. Confirming
the current dictum of olden time, he was not a Yedo man
born and therefore a money-maker. Without money he was always happy,
and with unconstrained placidity he was nonchalant towards the trifling
and mercenary matters of the common world. Yet he rigidly observed social
courtesy. He was fond of quiet company, but treated his friends handsomely.
He left these words in one of his wills,
Reduce foolish expenses
without being niggardly ; you should feast richly the people who kindly
keep a wake before my coffin.
It must have been at the age of fifty-one, in 1847, that Hiroshige, learning
from Confucian ethics that a man should know at fifty how to resign himself
to fate, shaved his head and became a novice. At this juncture Hiroshige
made the third change of his personal name to Tokubei. He was called Tokutaro
when he was young, and later assumed the name Juyemon. How Hiroshige may
have looked with a shaven head will be seen, as Mr. Uchida pointed out
Hiroshige and in the print entitled
at Kaianji Temple, Shinagawa, one of
Famous Views of Yedo
in the Yamadaya edition, 1853. Here, a shaven-headed artist is seen sketching
the view by a large maple tree in the centre of the canvas. It is amusing
to think that people without knowledge of him may have taken him for an
apostate priest transgressing the field of sketching.
Hiroshige was an artist who never thought that teaching was of any value, because he used to say that the art student should study art by himself. He was not one of the same class with Toyokuni the Third and Kuniyoshi, who were surrounded by pupils. Hiroshige was of a retiring nature. Moreover, his passion for travelling made him object to the regularity of tutorial exercise. Yet, there were some eighteen pupils, to each of whom a part of his name, Hiro or Shige, was given ; and to seven of them, it is said, Hiroshige orally bequeathed mementos.
As he himself knew, Hiroshige was unfortunate in his pupils. Hiroshige the Second was bad. And Shigemasa, who followed Hiroshige the Second as Hiroshige the Third, was equally bad. Hiroshige the Fourth left almost nothing we can call art. After him Hiroshige's lineage ceased, even nominally.
According to the inscription on the
Thirty-six Views of Fuji published
in the year following his death, Hiroshige passed away on the sixth day
of September of the year 1858, the fifth year of Ansei, at the age of
sixty-two. The disease of which he died is said to be cholera, which was
fearfully prevalent in the fifth year of Ansei, according to the records
of the time, and took the lives of some twenty-eight thousand people.
As a man self-possessed and free, who carried life's calamity lightly,
with a smile suitable to the humorous poet that he was, Hiroshige found
a moment amid the agonies of death to write the following Uta poem in
his usual playful vein:
I leave my brush at Azuma,
I go to the Land of the West on a journey
To view the famous sights there.
The words over the signature of Toyokuni the Third in the said memorial
Shedding tears in thought of him, express
the general sentiment of the people at Hiroshige's death, and that of
Toyokuni the Third, who was a great friend of the master. It is felt that
Hiroshige died at the most appropriate time, because, according to the
Thirty-six Views of Fuji written by Shunba, Hiroshige
often spoke of retiring from the art world before age and fatigue should
disgrace his past. He was wise in thus knowing himself.
Supposing this memorial portrait of Hiroshige to be reliable, since the artist was his close friend, we know that Hiroshige's head, as he himself said in the verse quoted above, was as round as a round dumpling. The space between the end of the nose and the lips was long as is that of a Yedo man of the older generation today. With thick eyebrows, large eyes and a high nose, his face is clear and noble. Unlike his lovely and delicate landscapes, Hiroshige's features are strong. Since he was a drinker of sake and a lover of fine dishes, he was portly and of a ruddy complexion.