August 15, 2018 2 min read


Under Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa (Fukagawa Mannen-bashi shita), is a woodblock print from Hokusai's famous book: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. A landmark of Japanese culture, the book was not produced until Hokusai was well into his 70's. Hokusai considered himself a “mad painter”, adopting various pseudonyms throughout different “periods” and styles of his work. When "Under Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa" was printed, he referred to himself as “Iitsu”.

This print depicts the beautiful arch of the Mannen Bridge (Ten Thousand years Bridge), in the Fukagawa district of Edo. The bridge spanned a small river (the Onagigawa) that flowed into the Sumida River, which is visible in the middle distance.

Here the Onagigawa is shown as a horizontal dark area in the middle ground. On the far bank of the Sumida is a long row of houses and shops.

The Mannen Bridge was a typical Edo-period bridge design, and here we see a bustling crowd crossing it on their way through busy Edo, holding oil-paper umbrellas aloft. Fishing scenes on the river below evoke the agrarian and mercantile setting of Edo's Fukagawa district at the time.

As we peer under the bridge into the distance, we see the iconic Mount Fuji. The view seen in this print is characteristic of many of the prints in the series, in which the legendary mountain appears almost an afterthought.

The composition makes use of Western perspective, with the gradual diminishing in size of buildings and other objects as they recede in the distance. The perspective is not, however, entirely consistent, reflecting the imperfect borrowing of the foreign composition system.

Hokusai’s Mannen Bridge arrived late in the development of Ukiyo-e prints, when travel scenes and landscapes used beautiful, detailed coloration, and often focused on lively and imaginative scenes of everyday life.

The Tenpo Reforms influenced the move toward landscapes; a set of policies which discouraged lavish representations of wealth in art. Instead, landscapes offered a timeless and unifying image of Japan’s nature, a means of constructing a national identity, and rooting this in the surrounding philosophies of the Shinto religion.

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