Japan and its history through the cigarette case scenes 53 Stations of the Tokaido
The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido [東海道五十三次] is a series of ukiyo-e woodcut prints created by Utagawa Hiroshige after his first travel along the Tokaido in 1832. The landscapes of the journey made a profound impression on the artist, and he created numerous sketches during the course of the trip, as well as his return to Edo (today Tokyo) via the same route. After his arrival at home, he immediately began work on the first prints from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido. Eventually, he would produce 55 prints in the whole series: one for each station, plus one apiece for the starting and ending points. Besides the fifty-three stations themselves, the series includes one print for the departure, Nihonbashi (the bridge of Japan), and a final one, the 55th print, Keishi, Kyoto, the imperial capital.

The runaway success of The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido established Hiroshige as the most prominent and successful printmaker of the Tokugawa era.

The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido is Hiroshige's best known work, and the best sold ever ukiyo-e Japanese prints. Coming just after Hokusai's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series, it established this new major theme of ukiyo-e, the landscape print, or fukei-ga, with a special focus on "famous views".

"Sudden Shower at Shono"

"Sudden Shower at Shono" (庄野の白雨) is the 46th print (45th station) of the series. The scene takes place at the Shono (庄野) station, a present-day city of Suzuka, Mie Prefecture. It is believed that the scene was not real, but Hiroshige's imagination. The print pictures several people running up and down the slope of a hill. However, the actual landform of Shono runs parallel to the Suzuka River and is flat.

"Sudden Shower at Shono" woodblock print from the series (left) and a cigarette case from the O. Komai workshop (from Fred Zweig's collection) with the same scene (right).

"Sudden Shower at Shono" is a composition of travellers and farmers, desperately climbing a slope and running down, and a sudden rain shower. Strong straight lines drawn by black ink and running diagonally downward from the top of the print express the violence and darkness of the rain hitting the ground. The strong wind bends the trees on the background. On the left side of the print, travelers wearing kasa (笠) run toward the top of the hill, covering the roof of their palanquin and holding their canes. On the other side two people are drawn running down the slope. The running farmer with a hoe wears a kasamino (笠蓑, straw raincoat). The nearby traveler wearing blue leggings faces the strong wind with a half-open Bangasa umbrella (番傘).

A kirihame zogan cigarette case by Mitsuhisa (光久).

The print emphesizes the slope, a sudden rain and wind, and the dynamic appearance of people running in search of shelter from the rain, showing the Utagawa Hiroshige's exceptional ability to contrast between movement and stillness.