Dominating the show is Japanese printmaker Ando Hiroshige's famous 1833 masterpiece, Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido. His sketches of the great Tokaido Road connecting Tokyo to Kyoto formed the basis for Fifty-three Stations, which rocketed Hiroshige to instant fame. He responded by creating sixteen to nineteen (counts vary) additional editions of the Tokaido series, all different, including one pornographic edition, Bedrooms of the Tokaido.
Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido, the first of the series, is still regarded as the best. Almost never exhibited in its entirety as it is here, it depicts fifty-three stops along the 300-plus-mile road. Two additional prints show each endpoint. Each stop contains tollbooths, restaurants, teahouses, and overnight accommodations for travelers. Hiroshige combines poetic, lyrical landscapes with depictions of travelers ranging from common laborers sweating under litters to feudal lords embedded in long retinues. The result is a vivid rendition of early-nineteenth-century Japan.
Two recurring features emerge as the prints are viewed in succession. Mount Fuji grows and then shrinks as the road slowly passes its massive snowy cone, creating a feeling of distance covered. A lord's entourage appears crossing a bridge in the first print and surfaces repeatedly on the journey to Kyoto, crossing mountain passes, fording rivers, and trailing through towns, creating the illusion that the viewer, also a traveler, follows the group.