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Japanese Art Scene 7

Considering Japan's public works project "road development" through the art of Hiroshige
Suntory Museum of Art: Hiroshige Exhibition

Keiko Sakagami
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University (School of Culture, Media and Society)

The Hiroshige Exhibition was held at the Suntory Museum of Art in Roppongi, Tokyo from the end of last year until the beginning of 2012. In addition to displaying all works in Hiroshige's representative series Fifty-Three Stages of the Tokaido Highway, this interesting exhibition also featured a comparative display of different woodblock prints.

The exhibition was given the unique name "A Road Traveled by Feudal Lords and Pet Dogs." This name aptly reflects the role fulfilled by the Tokaido Highway, as well as the features of Hiroshige's works depicting the road.

The Tokaido Highway was developed in 1601 by Tokugawa Ieyasu as one of the Five Routes in the Edo Period. Hiroshige's work consists of 55 prints, including scenes of the 53 post stations along the highways, as well as the beginning point of Nihonbashi Bridge in Edo City and the ending point of Sanjo-Ohashi Bridge in Kyoto City.

The sense of form in Hiroshige's prints remains fresh and timeless even today due to the use of many visual tricks such as bold close-ups and exaggeration, abrupt cut-offs, and bird's-eye views. The prints also include scenes of the many types of people (including animals such as dogs) traveling the road, subtleties of human interaction during everyday life at the post station towns, and various views of Mt. Fuji and the shoreline from each point along the highway. In addition to being an outstanding "travel guide," this series by Hiroshige holds the viewer's interest by portraying many human scenes.

Currently, I am a member of the Sociological Institute of Road-Space at Waseda University. At the institute, I examine the symbolism of roads. To me, the road depicted by Hiroshige is an outstanding work for considering the future of Japan's current roads.

Prior to the Great East Japan Earthquake, there was a slogan proclaiming "less money for concrete, more money for people." The road network became a symbol of wasteful public spending. However, following the earthquake, roads to the disaster area were severed. The fragileness and vulnerability of Japan's road network was exposed. Nowadays, it is no longer possible to simply dismiss civil works and construction projects such as roads as unnecessary public projects.

Inherently, roads have enriched human life. The Tokaido Highway from Edo to Kyoto was used by both feudal lords and dogs. The road brought many things together, contributing greatly to the growth of people, politics, economy and culture. The role of roads remains the same from ancient times until today.

Despite their important function, it is unfortunate that roads have suddenly become a symbol of low-return projects which guzzle taxpayer money. Even though various political and economic issues exist, it seems that people have forgotten the inherent role of "connection" fulfilled by roads. This feeling of connection has been replaced by the rapid growth and increased speed of transportation technology, and by the strong yet cold and overpowering form of concrete. We have lost the feeling of connection even while many people still dream and romance about the role of the Silk Road in connecting the culture of people from different regions.

The highway depicted by Hiroshige reminds us that roads enrich our lives and are not something opposed to human beings. Hiroshige shows roads that come alive with human activity instead of cold roads with no travelers. Today, we must consider more than simply the pros and cons of constructing roads. Indeed, we must give thought to the type of roads that we will create and form.

Related Links

A Road Traveled by Feudal Loads and Pet Dogs: Hiroshige's Fifty-Three Stages of the Tokaido Highway; Primarily from the Hoeido and Reisho Prints
http://www.suntory.co.jp/sma/exhibition/11vol06/index.html(Suntory Museum of Art website)

Keiko Sakagami
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University
(School of Culture, Media and Society)

She graduated from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Waseda University, majoring in History of Art. After studying at Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University, she has assumed the present post. Her speciality is modern and contemporary art, comparative culture. Her major works include "Painters in Dream and Luminescence: Reconsideration of Modernite (Modernity)" (publisher: Skydoor/ Winning the new face award of Minister of Education Award for Fine Arts) and "Berthe Morisot: Modern Times Lived by a Female Painter" (publisher: Shogakukan Inc.).