December 13, 2018 5 min read

Paintings that depicted the transition into a new season were a distinctive Japanese convention during the Edo Period. We're proud to present this seasonal, curated collection of stunning prints from Hokusai, Hiroshige, Kunisada and Hasui.

Snow at Zojoji Temple, Shiba

Snow at Zojoji Temple by Kawase Hasui

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This masterpiece from Kawase Hasui hails from the series "Twenty Views of Tokyo". According to art historian Narazaki "This is a masterpiece within Hasui's oeuvre and no other by him received as much praise".


Zōjō-ji is a Buddhist temple in Tokyo, Japan - the main temple of the "Pure Land" Chinzei sect of Buddhism in the Kantō region.


It is also the final resting place for six of the Tokugawa shoguns, the ruling clan that reigned during the Edo period, who were buried in the mausoleum of the temple grounds. After the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, the surroundings took on the role of a public park.


The main gate, visible in the background of this print, is the only part of the original temple complex that remains today, as fire, natural disasters and WWII raids claimed ever more of the principal buildings. Established in 1622, it's now the oldest wooden building in Tokyo.


Located in the Shiba neighborhood of Minato, it is surrounded by the Shiba Park and near the Tokyo Tower.

Tea House at Koishikawa, the Morning After a Snow Fall

Tea House at Koishikawa by Hokusai

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Paintings that depict a single environment’s transition into a season were a distinctive Japanese convention. In "Tea House at Koishikawa", Hokusai captures a winter scene, as men and women look out across a snow-covered plain towards Mount Fuji.

Foreshadowing modern animation, a cartoon-like sheath of snow blankets the roofs of the houses.

Japanese painters sought to emphasise the cycle of change in nature in their art as a visual representation of their Buddhist beliefs., as an expression of the inevitability of change but also joyous celebration of the natural cycle of the seasons.

Though seemingly innocent, the characters may have lascivious intentions. During the Edo period (1603-1868) in which Hokusai worked, a ‘tea house’ was often a place where couples retreated for privacy, or where men could procure geishas. The steaming tea was purely incidental.

Saishoin Temple in Snow, Hirosaki

Saishoin Temple in Snow - Hirosaki - by Kawase Hasui

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From the series "Collection of Scenic Views of Japan, Eastern Edition". The pagoda of the Saisho Temple in Hirosaki was built in 1667 to commemorate the spirits of fallen warriors who died in battle during the reunification of the Tsugaru district.

The pagoda is five stories high and is considered the most beautiful of its kind in Tohoku.

Hasui sought to capture the unchanging and pure spirit of Japan, despite modernization and industrialization taking place during his lifetime. With this print, it’s safe to say that he succeeded.

The Snow Leopard

The Snow Leopard - Old Tiger in the Snow by Hokusai
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While we know Hokusai for his woodblock prints, the beautiful "Old Tiger in the Snow" was a design for a hanging scroll. He created the work in 1849, the year of his death.

An old, pallid tiger, half-pads, half-floats upward toward something out of sight. Often interpreted as a mystical self-portrait, the tiger metaphorically represents Hokusai's spirit preparing to leave this earthly plane.

It does so with its head held high and an anthropomorphic smile of satisfaction on its face.

The branches of bamboo trees are covered and drooping under the weight of heavy snowfall, except for the ends, which visually echo the tiger's grasping claws.

Meguro Drum Bridge

Meguro Drum Bridge and Sunset Hill by Hiroshige

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Taken from Hiroshige's series "100 Famous Views of Edo", this print offers up a curiousity of an arched stone bridge.

Such bridges were unusual in Edo, but stone bridges even more so, given the city's proneness to earthquakes. It is thought the design hails from a wandering priest, who is said to have taken inspiration from a similar one in Kyushu, Japan.

Hiroshige evokes a sense of isolation, even loneliness with the oblique, distant viewpoint of the observer.

Evening Snow at Asakusa (1843-47)

Evening Snow at Asakusa by Hiroshige

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Evening Snow at Asakusa is part of the series Eight Views of Edo, by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). This particular design was for an uchiwa-e, or rigid fan print, which people would buy, cut out and paste onto their fans as decoration.

The huge paper lantern partially visible at the top of the image is from the Kaminarimon, or "Thunder Gate" at the entrance to the Asakusa Kannon Temple. Officially known as the Kinryuzan Sensoji, this was and still remains Edo/Tokyo's oldest and most-prominent Buddhist site.

The central building is the Niomon or "Gate of the Two Guardian Kings". To the right stands a five-storey pagoda, while the temple’s main compound is behind them and hidden from view.

The 'Eight Views' formula was a popular one, inspired by Chinese series of paintings which portayed the Xiao and Xiang rivers. It was originally used in Japan in the form of poetic references to eight beautiful vistas around Lake Biwa - Japan's largest lake. See our collection - 8 Views of Omi by Hiroshige - for more.

Travellers on Horseback in the Snow

Travellers on Horseback in the Snow by Hiroshige
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Travelers on Horseback in the Snow. Oi, the forty-Seventh Station, from the series: "Sixty-Nine Stations on the Kisokaido".

In this print, we look outover fields and hills covered in a thick blanket of snow, almost as though we are a fellow traveller on horseback behind the figures ahead.

15th Station: Kanbara

15th Station - Kanbara by Hiroshige
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In this, the 15th print in Hiroshige's breakthrough series: "The 53 Stations of the Tokaido" we see deep snow covering the village of Kanbara in the evening. Fresh, heavy flakes falling on the scene below create a serenity that is broken only by the implied crunching of travelers' footsteps in the snow.

Hiroshige intended to represent the Kanbara which was the 15th post station on the Tokaido Road, which ran from Edo and Kyoto. However, when creating prints, it is apparent that he often relied on existing prints and guidebooks rather than first-hand travel experience. This scene is almost entirely imaginary; it rarely snows in the temperate Kanbara area, in present-day Shizuoka Prefecture.

It seems likely that he mistakenly used an image of a very different Kanbara: the one depicted here is probably a village in the very mountainous Gunma prefecture near the resort town of Karuizawa. It is famous as the village buried during the August 1783 eruption of Mt. Asama, which killed 466 people.

47th Station: Kameyama (1832-34)

46th Station - Kameyama by Hiroshige
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In this, the 47th print in Hiroshige's breakthrough series: "The 53 Stations of the Tokaido" we see a daimyo procession moving up the steep, pine-lined mountain path to Kameyama castle.

On a clear morning after a heavy snowfall, a thick covering blankets everything in sight. To heighten the feeling of the climb, the castle at the top of the oblique slope has been cropped, with the top of the roof cut off by the edge of the print.

Upon close inspection, you'll discover the hats of the travellers peeking out below the tree line. Hiroshige used these "hidden identification figures" to draw the eye of the viewer deeper into the scene.

A hit upon publication, Hiroshige made his name with this series of landscape prints and toppled Hokusai from his top spot in the genre (print artists were publicly ranked, almost like sumo wrestlers at the time). In 1832, Hiroshige undertook a journey along the Eastern Sea Road (Tokaido) as part of an annual ceremonial delegation from Edo to the old imperial capital, Kyoto, in service of the Shogunate. In a creative outpouring, Hiroshige created the 53 scenes between 1832-34, while the trip was still fresh in his memory.


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