Tokyo’s Great Waterfall: “Dam on the Otonashi River in Ōji”
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 Tiny Dam that Edo Wits Declared a “Great Waterfall”
In the Edo period (1603–1868), Ōji was a popular destination for people from Nihonbashi and Kanda who came to immerse themselves in nature for a day. Utagawa Hiroshige’s picture, number 19 in his One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, captures the area at the height of spring.
The name Otonashi River applies to the short stretch of the Shakujii River that flows near Ōji Shrine. In the background of the composition we see a small dam with water spilling over the top. Although only a small cascade of water, it earned the lavish nickname “the Great Waterfall.”
Engineers in the 1960s diverted the Shakujii River to flow under Asukayama Park, but the original riverbed has been preserved as Otonashi Shinsui Park. The park boasts numerous flowering cherries and other deciduous trees, making it an excellent place to relax and enjoy the beauty of the changing seasons.
I was determined to include Asukayama, appearing as a tree-covered hill in the upper left of Hiroshige’s original work, in my own photograph. After much searching I finally found a position from which I could capture at least part of the hill’s profile. When the curve of the river, blooming sakura, and the foot of the hill came together in the viewfinder, I knew that this shot would convey the spirit of Hiroshige’s time.
About the Location
Until it was diverted as part of a redevelopment project, the Shakujii River flowed between Ōji Shrine and Asukayama Park. With the river in its new course, the old riverbed was reborn as Otonashi Shinsui Park, which, like Asukayama, is known for its stunning cherry blossoms in spring and crimson foliage in autumn. The park was even included on a list of the hundred best urban parks in Japan.
Location 1-1-1 Ōji Honchō, Kita, Tokyo
Access 3 minutes’ walk from Ōji Station on the JR Keihin–Tōhoku Line and the Tokyo Metro Nanboku Line, 3 minutes’ walk from Ōji-ekimae on the Toden Arakawa Line