Hiroshige I Utagawa, Seki, Jigoku-dayu, 53 Parallels for the Tokaido Road


Artist: Hiroshige I Utagawa (1797 - 1858)
Title: 48. Seki. Monk Ikkyu and the Hell Courtesan (Jigoku Dayu)
Series: Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido Road
Publisher: Ebiya Rinnosuke
Date: 1845 - 1846
Size: 24.7 x 36.4 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

The series 'Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido Road' became famous for its striking designs and stories illustrated, but also because of the collaboration between publishers and three important artists of the day. Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 - 1861) produced thirty-one prints for the series, Utagawa Hiroshige (1797 - 1858) nineteen and Utagawa Kunisada (1786 - 1864) the remaining eight, adding up to more than the 'fifty-three' prints implied in the title. Each print has a cartouche at the top with explanatory text on the stories drawn from folklore and history associated with the post-stations of Tokaido.


Monk Ikkyu stands before Jigoku Dayu, brandishing a skull on a stick to remind her of the inevitability of death. He enlightened the young courtesan as to the evils of her profession, and she became a convert to religious life. Dayu is a term of respect for the highest rank of courtesan, while jigoku (hell) is the lowest form of an unlicensed person working in the pleasure quarters. Her robe is appropriately decorated with scenes of torture of the Buddhist Hell. Kannon, the goddess of mercy, appears on the front of her robe design.

Hiroshige I Utagawa (1797 - 1858)

Hiroshige I Utagawa was a woodblock print artist best known for his landscape prints and considered as one of the greatest Japanese artists in ukiyo-e history to have influenced Western impressionists, such as Van Gogh and Claude Monet. Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he started sketching from an early age and was later accepted into Toyokuni I Utagawa’s highly successful studio mostly under the guidance of Toyohiro Utagawa (1773-1828), from whom he would adopt his art name. He also took nanga painting lessons that had a great influence on his later work.

In 1831 his first landscape series ‘Famous Places of The Eastern Capital’ (Toto Meisho) was published and the following year Hiroshige passed on his family responsibilities to his relatives to dedicate his entire energy to printmaking. In 1832, it is said that Hiroshige was appointed by Bakufu, the feudal government of Japan, to accompany an official procession from Edo to Kyoto along the Tokaido road. The artist made many sketches during this journey, resulting in the production of his most acclaimed series ‘Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road’, although some of the designs are based on older available images. To be noted that it was rare for an artist (and regular people in general) to be able to travel and sketch landscapes from life during the Edo period, which makes some scholars believe that Hiroshige depicted most scenes entirely from his imagination.

The ten-year period of 1833-1843 is thought to have been Hiroshige’s most developed and innovative time as an artist. A lot of series that were produced during this time, such as ‘Sixty-nine Stations of Kisokaido Road’, ‘Eight Views of Omi’ and ‘Famous Places of Kyoto’, would lead to the peak of his career when he produced the ‘Famous Views of the Sixty-odd Provinces’, ‘Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji’ and his last great series, ‘One Hundred Famous Views of Edo’. In addition to his landscape prints, Hiroshige also designed kacho-ga (pictures of birds and flowers), bijinga (pictures of beautiful women), yakusha-e (pictures of actors), warriors and historical subjects.

Hiroshige’s prints are particularly sought for their perspective and excellent bokashi (colour gradation). Careful overprinting and shading of colours bring to life many natural elements such as the sky or water, rocks and mountains. An appreciation for wood pattern can also be noted in Hiroshige’s prints, with certain designs showing a unique texture and an organic quality deeply cherished by collectors. As many other reputable artists, he also had many students, some of the most famous being Hiroshige II Utagawa and Hirokage Utagawa.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistHiroshige I Utagawa (1797 - 1858)
SubjectMale & Female, Ghosts & Religion
Size24.7 x 36.4 cm
Condition ReportBinding holes and small wormhole on the right. Wear on the bottom left corner. Some soiling. Light crease at the top.
SeriesThe Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido Road::Hiroshige I Utagawa Toyokuni III Utagawa Kuniyoshi Utagawa
publisherEbiya Rinnosuke:1832-1895