View of the exhibition “Voyage on the Kisokaido Road.  From Hiroshige to Kuniyoshi ”, at the Cernuschi Museum, in Paris.

In Japan, five roads connect Tokyo (old Edo) to Kyoto, about 500 kilometers apart, two of which – the so-called Tokaido road, along the coast, and the so-called Kisokaido road, passing through the mountains – are famous for having been pilgrimage route. In the Edo period (1603-1868), the daimyos (lords) borrowed them with their court every two years to go from the seat of the shogun (military leader) to that of the emperor.

They are always essential passages for tourists, the two arteries offering magnificent views of the landscapes of the Japanese archipelago. Both have also inspired the artists, who have recounted, through series of prints, the daily life of those who, on foot, on horseback or on sedan chairs, stopped in the various relays. marking out the courses. If today, thanks to the high-speed train, the journey is made in a few hours, in the XIXe century, the journey lasted two weeks.

In 2019, the Guimet Museum in Paris presented the magnificent series produced on the Tokaido route by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). The Cernuschi Museum, also specialized in Asian arts, continues today the discovery by attaching itself to the other road, longer and more picturesque, marked out with 69 stops and passing by steep passes. Entitled “Journey on the Kisokaido Road”, the exhibition, presented in the mansion of 8e district, brings together prints recounting this pilgrimage, signed by Hiroshige and his colleague Keisai Eisen (1790-1848).

Read the 2019 archive: At the Guimet Museum, Utagawa Hiroshige’s travel diaries

Like the works presented at Guimet, they come from the private collection of Georges Leskowicz, an industrialist passionate about prints, who holds a formidable collection of them. Essentially the first prints, very well preserved, with remarkable color gradations. We see the landscapes evolving according to the weather and the seasons, the characters, often tiny compared to the majestic mountains that surround them, sketched in their walk or their moments of pause, busy cooking a meal, drinking tea , to play with the children.

Scene from folklore or Japanese literature

Hiroshige like Eisen succeed in sharing with us the joys and torments of fellow travelers, experiencing the crunching of footsteps in the snow, the drumming of the rain on a cape, the dazzling sunrise behind Mount Fuji.

On a video screen, eight prints are compared with photographs taken from the same places during the Meiji period (1868-1912) – where we discover, on albumen prints enhanced with watercolor, real walkers on the same paths – and today. Sometimes, only the terminal indicating the stage point remains; on the other hand, some places, such as away from time, have hardly changed.

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