Toyokuni III Utagawa, Nissaka, Fifty-three Stations of Tokaido, Kabuki


Artist: Toyokuni III Utagawa (1786 - 1865)
Title: Nissaka
Series: Fifty-three Stations of Tokaido
Publisher: Sumiyoshia Masagoro
Date: 1852


Original Japanese woodblock print.

A wide shouldered man strikes an expressive pose against the night time backgrounds of the mountainous region.


During the Edo period (c.1603-1868), a series of post stations were formed along the Tokaido, a road connecting the former capital of Kyoto with the new capital of Edo. From government officials to pilgrims, these post stations offered a place of repose for those travelling on the expansive road.


The image shows kabuki actor Seki Sanjuro II as Kobayakawa Tatewaki at the Nissaka station. In the background, travellers gather around a boulder, yonaki-ishi (lit. night weeping stone). According to legend, a pregnant woman was killed by bandits, and her blood dripped on the very stone. Ever since, the stone has cried out for her and her baby every night.


Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I) (1786 - 1864)

Kunisada I Utagawa was a prolific woodblock print artist mostly known for his pictures of beautiful women (bijinga) and kabuki actors prints (yakusha-e). Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he became a pupil of Toyokuni I Utagawa (1769-1825) at the age of 15 and would later adopt his name in the traditional Japanese manner, becoming Toyokuni III and continuing the development of the Utagawa art school.

Kunisada’s pictures reflect the culture of Japan in the years leading up to the country’s opening to the West. His first book illustrations were published in 1807 and his first actor portrait the following year. Alongside theatrical scenes and courtesans, yakusha-e was his preferred genre amidst all his popular and extensive output. As he painted a large number of these, continuing the stout realism of his teacher, he acquired the nickname ‘Yakusha-e no Kunisada’ – Kunisada, the actor painter. In his numerous bijinga he clung to the ideal of beauty prevalent at the time. Most of the women portrayed were courtesans from Yoshiwara, the regulated red-light district of the city.

In 1820s Kunisada joined author Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842) to work on illustrating a series of books based on the classical novel ‘The Tale of Genji’, the reinterpreted story having been relocated from the old capital of Kyoto to the new audience in Edo. The work started a new ukiyo-e genre, genji-e, and proved an overnight success, becoming the first Japanese publication to sell over 10,000 copies, a record which stood for many years.

Kunisada gave his audience an escape from the restrictions of their ordinary lives and his designs, with their optimism and energy, still have the capacity today to attract and entertain. Notable students of Kunisada included Kunichika Toyohara, Sadahide Utagawa and Kunisada II Utagawa.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistToyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I) (1786 - 1864)
SubjectSamurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Landscapes
Size35.9 x 25.2 cm
Condition ReportWorn-out edges, minor wormholes, some paper residue and writing on the back.
SeriesThe Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido Road::Hiroshige I Utagawa Toyokuni III Utagawa Kuniyoshi Utagawa
publisherSumiyoshiya Masagoro:1847-1853