from After Hiroshige: Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido

(Tokaido Goju-san Tsugi no Uchi)

A Note on Hiroshige and the Tokaido
In 1600, Japan’s new Tokugawa government under Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu established its capitol in the city of Edo (Tokyo). The Tokaido Road (Eastern Sea Road) linking Edo with Kyoto became a busy thoroughfare as the great daimyos, or local lords, made the 15-day journey to pay homage to the new military leader of Japan. Many of the some 250 daimyo built mansions of their own in Edo and divided their time between the capital and their home province, and so traveled the road several times each year. A single daimyo, if he was of any importance, made the journey with a grand procession of 2,000 to 3,000 servants and retainers.

Drawn to this growing stream of traffic, businessmen, peddlers, religious pilgrims (both Shinto and Buddhist), foreign dignitaries, beggars, criminals, and scores of porters—who made the Tokaido their living and their life—traveled the road. In response to increasing opportunities for mishap and crime along the road, the Tokugawa government established a series of laws to make travel safer and more systematic by creating 53 way stations, each with an office of transportation where privileged parties could obtain horses and porters. At these stations, enterprising businessmen opened restaurants and inns where travelers could rest for the night, and local merchants and children sold goods. In its time, the Tokaido Road was the world’s busiest highway, linking two of the world’s largest cities.

Andō Hiroshige (1797-1858) was the last great master of ukiyo-e, or woodblock printmaking, in the Japanese tradition. In 1832, he joined a daimyo procession traveling from his home in Edo to Kyoto on the Tokaido Road. He was inspired by the experience, and made sketches along the way. Woodblock print series of famous people and places were becoming popular in Japan, and Hiroshige had already made a series of views of Edo. Upon returning home, he set to work on a series of prints to mark his journey, one for each way station, and one each for the beginning and end.

The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido offers an inside look at the lives and feelings of the people who traveled the road. It is widely considered Hiroshige’s greatest achievement as an artist. Moreover, the body of his work is credited with powerfully influencing western artists like Cezanne, van Gogh, and Whistler. With a poet’s eye, Hiroshige captured in his prints the beauty and stillness of the landscape and people of Tokugawa Japan.

— Kurt Caswell



After Hiroshige: Ten Poems by Kurt Caswell

Station One

Early in the day the road
meets the sea.
Cargo ships ride at anchor
and some ride the morning
breeze. Even the blue-clad
samurai, pillars to discipline
glance sideways at
the welcoming voices
of the tea girls.




53 Stations of the Taikaido: Hakone, by Ando Hiroshige

Station Ten

The mountains of Hakone
up-thrust beneath your
feet as you pass. So much
blue reminds you
of wind, rain, snow,
your all-day toil.
Still, the earth’s heart
is warm. You
find settling relief—
a hot spring bath.




53 Stations of the Taikado: Hara, by Ando Hiroshige

Station Thirteen

Impatient women
in glorious winter dress
goad their bare-legged
porter. His load-bearing
thoughts drift with noiseless
crane-steps in the frozen reeds.
Cold. Content.
Longevity is a prescription
of the mind
and Fuji-san, in old-man white,
You walk on.




53 Stations of the Taikado: Kanbara, by Ando Hiroshige

Station Fifteen

White rooftops curve
softly in a row. Quiet
deep snow. Parting,
three faces conceal their concerns.
Hats. Umbrella. Night.
Later, a raven settling here
will find the story in your
until winter washes
even your memory away.




53 Stations of the Taikado: Mariko, by Ando Hiroshige

Station Twenty

New plum leaves
at Mariko, and new life
strapped to mother’s back.
Two road-worn travelers
sip a broth of grated yams.
House with two crows
tell tidy comforts—Basho’s
song of home.




53 Stations of the Taikado: Nissaka, by Ando Hiroshige

Station Twenty-five

Sweet impossible,
this mountain path. Trees
begin the climb, you
must finish it.
Foreground boulder,
the Night-weeping Stone,
a pregnant woman’s murder.
It happened long ago.
You pause to listen.
The mountain calls you
back to the road.




53 Stations of the Taikado: Chiryu

Station Thirty-nine

A single tree
to the calming sky
overspreads the bustle
at the horse auction.
Tethered in good grass,
the horses await
new masters. You are master
and mastered
by your strong heart
down the path. Two men
tempt buyers
with good things
to eat.




53 Stations of the Taikado: Kuwana, by Ando Hiroshige

Station Forty-two

Between Miya
and Kuwana
travelers take to the sea.
Across open waters, your
track leaves no path.
Lowered sails mean
safer harbor. Faces
visible beneath the tarpaulins
trust the boatman, while white
waves toss your
shivering head.




53 Stations of the Taikado: Shono, by Ando Hiroshige

Station Forty-five

Clouds building all day
speak rain
running sideways
in the wind. You
may hurry home,
but the porters
must bear the threat
while giant bamboo
folds, and the world
is beaten flat.




53 Stations of the Tokaido: Ishibe, by Ando Hiroshige

Station Fifty-one

Ishibe announces
the daimyo. Market
house kept clean. Two figures
sell delicacies: bean curd coated
with bean paste,
and rice boiled with leafy vegetables.
News travels down
the road:
a procession will come
and go, all the way
to Kyoto.




Kurt CaswellDuring his time living and teaching in Hokkaido, Japan, Kurt Caswell came to admire the work of Andō Hiroshige. Some years later, he wrote one poem for each of the woodblock prints in Hiroshige’s series The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido. These ten poems from the series are published here for the first time.
Kurt’s newest book is Getting to Grey Owl: Journeys on Four Continents. He teaches writing and literature in the Honors College at Texas Tech University.
Read Kurt Caswell’s essential Letter to America, appearing in

All prints by Andō Hiroshige, courtesy Ukiyo-e and Wikipedia Commons.

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