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15th Station: Kanbara

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About the Art

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.

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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