Yui Post Town

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Yui Post Town, Hiroshige early 19C

Yui Post Town. Hiroshige’s Yui (19C ukiyoe or woodblock print). Note the three travellers top left ascending Satta Pass. The two customers, presumably travellers from the big city of Edo (now called Tokyo, with a population of 1 million during the Edo Period, 17C~mid 19C) stand in awe of the stunning vista across Suruga Bay (Japan’s deepest bay) to Mt Fuji (Japan’s highest mountain). Their retained guide and luggage carrier over the steep Satta Pass, presumably a local, is however not interested in the view and leans into his work. “Ah, Fuji, seen it a million times”. Travel the 21C equivalent Tokaido Shinkansen at 280km per hour along this same stretch and you will see many locals pull the blinds down to focus on their smartphones. “Ah, Fuji, seen it a million times”. Hiroshige captures the irony that worldwide, we overlook stunning beauty under our noses because of familiarity.

Tokaido Hiroshige Museum
Tokaido Hiroshige Museum

Shizuoka City’s Tokaido Hiroshige Museum explains the process of printing ukiyoe and also has some interesting vidoes and displays pointing out some of the ironies and secret messages hidden in many of Hiroshige’s works. The Museum’s main display of original Hiroshige works changes several times a year to suit specific themes.

The Museum notes that Hiroshige, originally a firefighter in Edo, benefitted from an early-mid 19C travel boom when he published his first printed work – the 53 Stages of Tokaido. Hiroshige went on to influence Impressionists Claude Monet and Van Goh with his style. Until Hiroshige, landscapes were not popular in Japanese art, which focussed on portraits where the landscape simply provided background. Ukiyoe is also the origin of today’s globally popular Manga culture. Hiroshige’s scenes are based on real life experiences, but he is happy to modify the details, including colour shades, people, and even where Mt Fuji is positioned, with his publishing team back in his Edo studio to deliver ironic messages and an overall interesting series.

Try your hand at printing your own Tokaido ukiyoe at Tokaido Hiroshige Museum
Try your hand at printing your own Tokaido ukiyoe at Tokaido Hiroshige Museum

kurasawa tea house district

Between Yui Post and Okitsu Post Town, 9km the the west, you can enjoy Kurasawa tea house district that boasted 10 tea houses for tired and thirsty Tokaido travelers. Kurasawa is one of many “Ai no juku” along Old Tokaido, which are collections of tea-houses for resfreshments in between the major overnight Post Towns. At Kurasawa, travelers could/can enjoy views over Surga Bay whilst enjoying fresh seafood from it, as well as views of Fuji and Izu Peninsula Below the old Kurasawa town we can see modern highways and trainlines built on land pushed up from the sea by an earthquake in 1855. Fujiya Teahouse, Kurasawa, is the oldest remaining building on Tokaido, under 23 generation management. Fujiya Teahouse played an important role in the 1868 Meiji Revolution. The teahouse managers were able to protect Yamaoka from pursuing forces by sneaking him down their secret staircase to the sea below and into a boat to the west. Two days later Yamaoka was able to have a vital meeting in what is now Shizuoka City with revolutionary leader Saigo, where they agreed a plan to encourage the Shogun to surrender Edo (Tokyo) Castle to the revolutionary forces without loss of blood. The surrendered Shogun (Yoshinobu, the last Shogun) then lived in retirement at Fugetsuro in modern Shizuoka City (you can visit there too) before returning to Tokyo 20 years later to serve as a Minister in the new constitutional Meiji Government!

Fujiya Teahouse, Kurasawa, Yui, oldest remaining building on Tokaido
Fujiya Teahouse, Kurasawa, Yui, oldest remaining building on Tokaido

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