reversing Tokaido’s polarity

The Emperor’s palace has been located in Kyoto since the 8th century. The character kyo, which can be found in both Kyoto, ‘Capital’, and in Tokyo, ‘Eastern Capital’, has a double meaning, namely ‘capital’ as well as ‘court-capital’. In 1868, when the Shogun handed power back to the Emperor and the court moved from Kyoto to Edo, it was natural for the name of the capital to change as well. In ordinary language, the place where the Emperor resided was used as a compass for travel directions. Before 1868, when referring to a journey to Kyoto one spoke of ‘going up’ in almost ‘heavenly’ terms and ‘going down’ when travelling eastward to Edo. Tokaido print series traditionally began numbering in Edo, counting in the direction of Kyoto. A far more worldly reason is that Edo was the metropolis where most travellers left from, and where the Nihonbashi, ‘Japan Bridge’, was the official point zero for every distance and every road in the country.
When the Emperor moved to Edo, Tokyo instantly became the place where people travelled ‘up’ to. This inversion of the compass has now been generally accepted in Japanese minds and their common language. This modern series preserved the same sequence and numbering, but for convenience the traditional numbering is in a smaller letter size next to the new one in this book. The operating base was Kyoto and our journey ended in Tokyo.

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 A modern view on the 53 Stations of the Great Coastal Route
Walk the Tokaido
Fujieda 33 (23), Hiroshige (frame) & Kunisada (figures), ‘Twin Brush’ Tokaido series, 1854-57. The way in which the figures enter the frame, a snapshot-like photographic solution, is revolutionary.
Fukuroi 28 (28), Hiroshige,
‘Vertical’ Tokaido edition, 1855. Kite flying was a religious tradition used for pleading to the gods for a plentiful harvest.
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