Guide

2018/8/7

Ukiyo Photographer Kichiya’s “Komagata Hall and Azuma Bridge”

“Komagata Hall and Azuma Bridge” is the fifty-fifth print in Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Its bold composition relegates both hall and bridge to the margins in favor of a lone cuckoo flying through rainy Asakusa skies.

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.

Looking Over Azuma Bridge from Komagata Hall—the Original Asakusa Landmark

The soaring cuckoo, a traditional symbol of summer in Japan, and low cloud cover clearly sets this print of Asakusa in the rainy season. The structures in the lower half of the scene—Komagata Hall and Azuma Bridge, of course, but also the lumber sheds of Zaimoku-chō and the red banner of a cosmetics store—are exquisitely arranged.

Legend has it that Komagata Hall was built on the spot where the famed statue of the goddess Kannon at nearby Sensōji was first enshrined after miraculously emerging from the Sumida River. The hall has been rebuilt countless times over the centuries, most recently in 2003. Its current incarnation appears to be slightly upstream of where it was in Hiroshige’s time.

Azuma Bridge dates back to 1774, making it the youngest of the five bridges built across the Sumida River during the Edo period (1603–1868). Its name is something of a mystery. It was originally known as Ōkawa Bridge, but most maps by Hiroshige’s time referred to it as Azuma Bridge. Some argue that the new name was adopted because the bridge was east (azuma) of Edo, while others hold that the name comes from nearby Azuma Shrine.

Today, there are very few locations left where it is possible to fit both Komagata Hall and Azuma Bridge together in the camera viewfinder. In my photograph, the hall can be seen at bottom left, and the red bridge to its right is Azuma Bridge. I did take another shot in which Komagata Hall is slightly larger, more like the original print, but I chose not to use it  as it did not include the Tokyo Skytree, a “famous view” from our own Heisei era (1989–).

About the Location

Asakusa

Located outside the gates of Sensōji, the district of Asakusa has flourished since early times. The pace of development picked up considerably in 1620 when the relatively newly established Edo shogunate built rice granaries in nearby Kuramae. This was followed by the 1657 relocation of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters to the area and the 1843 establishment of Saruwaka-chō, the local theater district, making Asakusa one of the liveliest and best-known parts of Edo. 

Asakusa continued to thrive into the Meiji era (1868–1912) and beyond. Right up until the 1960s, it was the center of Tokyo’s entertainment and recreation culture. But the rise of television thinned the ranks of its movie theaters, and from the 1970s visitor numbers dropped precipitously. The reboot of the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival in 1978 and the launch of the Asakusa Samba Carnival in 1981 slowly began to draw sightseers back, and soon Asakusa had established its present-day image as a sightseeing spot with a traditional Edo atmosphere. In recent years Asakusa has become a popular destination for tourists from overseas, and the area is now busy even on weekdays.