Photos of a Picturesque Past: Kichiya’s Take on “Inside Kameido Tenjin Shrine”
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Kichiya, the Ukiyo Photographer: Today’s Tokyo Through Hiroshige’s Eyes
Meisho Edo hyakkei, known in the West as One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, was one of ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige’s most celebrated works, influencing even Western artists like Van Gogh and Monet. Drawn in Hiroshige’s final years and published from 1856 to 1861, the series depicted the sights of Edo (as Tokyo was then known) through the changing seasons. Audiences around the world admired Hiroshige’s inventive use of bold compositions, bird’s-eye-view perspectives, and vivid colors. A century and a half later, “ukiyo photographer” Kichiya has set himself the task of recreating each of these views with a photograph taken in the same place, at the same time of year, from the same angle. Join us in this new series at Nippon.com on a tour of these “famous views” in Edo and modern-day Tokyo, guided by Kichiya’s artistry and his knowledge of old maps and life in Edo.
The Wisteria of the God of Learning
“Kameido Tenjin keidai” (“Inside Kameido Tenjin Shrine”) is one of the best known of Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.
Kameido Tenjin Shrine was built as part of Edo’s reconstruction after the devastating 1657 Great Fire of Meireki, on land said to have been donated by the ruling shogun, Ietsuna, himself. The view of the wisteria arbor from the top of the arched taikobashi (literally “drum bridge,” referring to its shape) was apparently considered one of Edo’s “famous views” long before Hiroshige included it in his series.
Note the particularly charming touch in Hiroshige’s picture of a mother and child cautiously descending the steep bridge together.
In 2013, I chose Kameido Tenjin Shrine as the first of Hiroshige’s views to recreate photographically. I later realized, however, that I had made a mistake at that first shoot. The shrine has two taikobashi, one known as the “men’s bridge,” (otokobashi), and the other as the “women’s bridge” (onnabashi). Hiroshige’s piece depicts the men’s bridge, but I had photographed the women’s. In 2016 I returned to retake the photograph framing the men’s bridge instead, and this was the result.
Kameido Tenjin Shrine becomes very crowded when the wisteria is in bloom, making it difficult to shoot one of the bridges without including many other visitors in the shot. I solved this problem by taking my photograph on an early morning visit. Ensuring that the bridge and the surface of the water were at roughly the same level as they are in the ukiyo-e produced a composition very close to Hiroshige’s original.
About the Location
Kameido Tenjin Shrine is dedicated to Heian courtier and scholar Sugawara no Michizane (845–903), who came to be revered as the “God of Learning.” Shrines dedicated to him around the country are popular stops for students facing entrance exams to this day. The shrine is located in Tokyo’s shitamachi, the “low city” near the rivers to the east, where it is a much-loved part of the local streetscape. Its wisteria arbor is said to be the most stunning in Tokyo, and visitors flock to its annual Wisteria Festival, which runs from late April to around Children’s Day on May 5. Just inside the great torii gate is a pond shaped like the character for “heart” with three bridges across it: the otokobashi, or “men’s bridge,” the hirabashi “flat bridge,” and the onnabashi “women’s bridge.” These bridges represent the past, present, and future respectively, and visitors cross each in turn to purify themselves before approaching the shrine proper.
Location 3-6-1 Kameido, Kōtō-ku, Tokyo
Tel. +81 (0)3-3681-0010
Access 15 minutes’ walk from Kameido Station or Kinshichō Station on the JR Sōbu Line, or Kinshichō Station on the Tokyo Metro Hanzōmon Line