Yoshitora: Picture of a Steam Train in Tokyo 東京蒸気車

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Artist: Utagawa Yoshitora
Title: Picture of a Steam Train in Tokyo 東京蒸気車
Date: 1871

The drama that we see 150 years later is different than the excitement experienced by the original viewers in 1871; what we see are two trains on a collision course as they share a single track and are traveling towards each other at speed. What viewers of the time saw was a modern amazement; in the foreground is a steam train pulling a carriage that features large glass windows where we can see the occupants enjoying the novelty of the trip. Pedestrians on the bridge above the tracks are marveling at the new form of transportation as the engine belches its huge clouds of grey smoke. In the background we see the old-fashioned road-bound travelers who are being transported mostly on rickshaws that are pulled by rather overworked-looking men. There is one group of foreigners, probably Americans, who ride a horse-drawn carriage. It is clear that the artist used largely his imagination and perhaps western illustrations as the basis of this work, as Japan’s first railway did not begin operations until October 14, 1872 and was built with the expertise of the British. When Emperor Meiji himself boarded the first-class carriage at the opening of the railroad in 1872, tens of thousands of spectators attended the event. Plans for the Tokyo to Yokohama railway line were announced in 1870, so the publisher must be capitalizing on the public’s enthusiasm and curiosity and the train as an emblem of “civilization  and enlightenment’ (bumei kaika).  Along the road (assumedly the Tokaido) we also see telegraph lines, which were installed in 1869, as more evidence of the lightning speed by which Japan adopted imported technology.

Condition: Excellent impression and color. Very good condition. Some wrinkles on middle sheet and minor areas of repair in one corner and in top margin.

Dimensions: ôban triptych, each sheet 36.8 x 24.6 cm
Publisher: Shimizuya Naojirô
Signature: Yoshitora ga