The 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road



The Tokaido Road developed in significance over time, a time that dates back to the start of Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). I first became aware of the Tokaido after seeing a selection of woodblock prints by the Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige. I grew curious to know what remained of this route and wondered how the locations would look now. I then travelled on the Tokaido Road in Japan and produced paintings based upon similar views to those once chosen by Hiroshige in the early 1830s. Some of Hiroshige's studies of these areas were transferred into a set of woodblock prints known as ’The 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road’.

The Tokaido ('Eastern Sea Road') which linked Edo (present day Tokyo) and Kyoto, has gone through many changes in its history. However, I found a sense of poetry remaining, a poetry of time and place. Hiroshige responded to these regions as did other artists both before and after him. I chose to join in this traditional Japanese subject matter and followed Hiroshige's first set of prints (Hoeido edition) as my starting point.

In time I realised that Hiroshige's images of the Tokaido were as much about an imaginative journey as a physical one. It is, perhaps, on this level of the imagination that I feel most in empathy with many of the artists that have made this journey before me. Some locations within the modern face of the Tokaido had a desolate and abandoned atmosphere, while other places were full of travellers, noise and hospitality, which, I imagined, would have been more reminiscent of the road in Hiroshige's time.

The road was approximately three hundred miles long and was an enormous physical challenge. There were mountains to pass and many rivers to negotiate, some by boat while others needed professional porters to carry travellers from shore to shore. I was fortunate in that my journey along the road was aided by contemporary transport.

The present make up of urban Japan is masking this older route, but the road in part is still there and is cared for by many Japanese. Hiroshige used the Tokaido as a source of creativity for many years. I have just started. The way I express my experience of the Tokaido is encoded in the paintings.

My exploration of this ancient highway concluded with a combination of lectures and a touring exhibition. The British Museum and Hertfordshire University were among the locations on the lecture tour. This project had sponsors that included The Daiwa Anglo Japanese Foundation, Mitsubishi Electric, The Corporation London and ‘Japan Festival 2001’. These expeditions were also supported by the generosity of friends and family.

Nigel Caple


Extract from the exhibition catalogue ‘The 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road’ paintings by Nigel Caple.

Nigel Caple was my student twenty years ago and over the intervening years has become a colleague: we have shared exhibitions, discussions and advice.

Central to my belief in the importance of art and its place in society is a conviction that a training in art enables the artist to discard any rigid and conventional concepts of space and time and enter a new and dynamic world of experience, which engages all our creative potentials.

Nigel's commitment as artist over the past twenty-five years enables him in his 'Stations of the Tokaido Road' to transcend the spacial and temporal divide which would otherwise separate him from his great predecessor and, with a true artist's sense of a shared seriousness, to join Hiroshige on his journey.

It has often been remarked that Japan and the United Kingdom are island cultures. Voyaging is a shared historical experience. Nigel, born in a small off-shore island of the UK, with sea-faring in his blood, takes for granted what Hiroshige took for granted: in a journey or a voyage we embody ourselves. It is this sense of human embodiment, whether his images are peopled or not, which gives Hiroshige his perennial appeal, and travelling the road and seeing what Hiroshige has seen before him, gives Nigel's own work his own sense of embodiment and warmth. The imagination is not a personal possession; though it may touch us from time to time, it is usually mediated by our great forerunners in the field. It is natural and appropriate that Hiroshige has inspired Nigel. Following the path of a master has always been a source of originality in east and west.

Matisse reminded the west that several of the classic artists of Japan changed names in order not to be prisoners of a reputation. This reminder was timely since the name Picasso was assuming an importance overriding his work and encouraging students to seek above all a name, which would licence anything. Nigel has not followed this fashion since his 'Stations of the Tokaido Road' is the culmination of many years of patient work both in Europe and Japan. If it gives him a reputation, which leads him to consider a change of name, so be it. He will remain for me a loyal friend and a fine artist.

Miles Richmond
June 2001