Historical Background to The Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido by Hiroshige
Ukiyodochu Hizakurige kokkei sugoroku (Japanese traditional board game)
This image shows a game board that depicts Hiroshige's return journey along the Tokaido road, inspired by the Ukiyodochu Hizakurige, a section of the Tokaidochu Hizakurige (by Hiroshige's contemporary, the writer Juppensha Ikku). The game was a best-seller in its day.
Hiroshige's reputation not only derived from the excellence of his Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido series, but reflected the public's growing interest in the topography of the country. His lifetime saw a proliferation of art and literature, including travel memoirs, describing famous places and travel destinations. The comic novel Tokaidochu Hizakurige (Shank's Mare on the Tokaido) by Juppensha Ikku was very popular, and Hiroshige was influenced by its descriptions.
This interest in travel arose with the development of better transportation and a political environment that made safe travel possible. The second half of the Edo period brought the construction of roads to even the remotest mountain areas, and passage to the farthest islands of the archipelago also became easier. A complete travel guide to Japan appeared in print, and a national system to facilitate safe travel was implemented. Commoners were permitted to travel for the purpose of making religious pilgrimages, and many set out on long journeys, enjoying the length and breadth of the route along the way. Hiroshige's Tokaido series came out of this affluent and poetic environment.