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Biography: Utagawa HIROSHIGE III (歌川広重 [三代])

Utagawa Hiroshige III xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Hiroshige III print from 1875
Surugachô Mitsui kan
Series: Tokyo fuka meisho zukushi
Woodblock print, ôban (357 x 244 mm)




Hiroshige III signatureHiroshige III signature Utagawa Hiroshige III (三代 歌川広重 1842 / 1843-1894) was born Gotô Torakichi (後藤寅吉), the son of a shipbuilder in the Fukugawa (深川) district of Edo. He first studied as a teenager with Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797-1858) until the master's death. His early art name was Shigemasa (重政). In 1867, after Utagawa Hiroshige II (1826-1869), a fellow pupil of the first Hiroshige, divorced the master's adopted daughter Otatsu, Gotô married her and took the name Hiroshige II, but by 1869, he decided to call himself Hiroshige III.

Much of Hiroshige III's work was focused on so-called kaika-e (enlightenment pictures: 開化絵), meaning prints that illustrated the popular political mantra of the day, Bunmei kaika (“Revolution in civilization,” or "Civilization and enlightenment": 文明開化). Typical subjects — all reflecting the influence of the West — included Japanese architecture (brick buildings), infrastructure (railroads, bridges), and manners and customs (dresses, bowler hats). Mostly, these designs reflected the modernization of early Meiji Japan during the 1870s and 1880s. Of particular importance, scenes of Westernization and new forms of Meiji restoration were admired and sought after. Partly, there was a didactic purpose in issuing such prints, although financial profitability always remained of paramount concern to Hiroshige III and his publishers. Today, kaika-e often prove to be valuable as visualizations of how the Japanese perceived the influence and desirability of adopting Western manners and customs, architecture, and science.

An example of a kaika-e by Hiroshige III is shown on the left. Titled Surugachô Mitsui kan (Mitsui Bank Building in Surugachô: する賀町三つ井館), it is from the series Tokyo fuka meisho zukushi (Enumeration of famous places in Tokyo suburban districts: 東京府下名所尽) published by Tsujiokaya Kamekichi in 1875. This sheet exemplifies the transitional nature of ukiyo-e urban subjects in early Meiji Japan. There is, for instance, the hybrid clothing of the pedestrians who wear either conventional Japanese kimono and coats or Western-style fashions. Flowering cherry tress are in full bloom, and majestic Mount Fuji can be seen off in the distance under a sunlit red sky. However, what stands in contrast to these Japanese emblems is the newly constructed Mitsui Bank in Surugachô. Completed in 1874, it combined traditional Japanese woodworking techniques with a Western-style approach to design. For more about this print and others by Hiroshige III, see the link at the end of this text.

Hiroshige III's names

Utagawa (歌川)

Personal Names:
Gotô Torakichi (後藤寅吉) childhood name
Andô Tokubei (安藤徳兵衛)

Art names (geimei):
Shigemasa (重政)
Hiroshige (廣重) see signature 2nd upper right (reading ôju ["by request"] Hiroshige ga 應需廣重)
Shigetora (重寅)

Possibly Hiromasa (廣政) ?

Pseudonyms ():
Isshôsai (一笑齋)
Ryûsai (立齋) see signature at far upper right (Ryûsai giga ["drawn for amusement"], 立齋戲画)

"Meiji" Hiroshige (明治重)

Pupils of Hiroshige III

Shôsai Ikkei (act. c. 1870s)

For more about Utagawa Hiroshige III, see John Fiorillo's web page: