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© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst (Asian Art Museum, National Museums in Berlin), former collection of Hans-Joachim and Inge Küster, gift of Manfred Bohms 2002, photography: Tadao Kodaira

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Kidai Shōran

Kidai Shōran is an illustrated scroll depicting the scene along Nihonbashi Street around 1805, during the late Edo period (1603–1867). It portrays the prosperity of the city and the daily life of its people through detailed views of the main thoroughfare from Kanda Imagawabashi Bridge (near Kanda Station) to Nihonbashi Bridge. The artist is unknown, but the title, which means “Excellent View of this Prosperous Age,” is by the renowned calligrapher Sano Tōshū (d. 1814). A label with the title and the character ten (“heaven”) suggests that there might be other volumes, such as chi (“earth”) and jin (“humankind”).

Nihonbashi Kidai Shōran title calligraphy by Sano Tōshū Kidai Shoran (detail) © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst (Asian Art Museum, National Museums in former collection of Hans Joachim and Inge Küster, gift of Manfred Bohms 2002, photography: Tadao Kodaira

Discovery of the Scroll

The scroll was found in a relative’s attic by Professor Küster, of the Free University of Berlin in Germany, and his wife in the 1990s. The Küsters donated it to the Museum für Asiatische Kunst in Berlin, but its prior history is unknown. The scroll was the subject of investigative research at the University of Cologne, led by Professor Ehmcke of the Department of Japanese Studies, and was displayed for the first time at the museum’s millennium exhibition in 2000. The scroll returned to Japan in 2003 for the first public exhibition in its home country at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. In 2009, a replica of the scroll measuring 1.4 times larger than the original was installed permanently in the concourse of Mitsukoshimae Station, where it can be viewed at any time. The original remains in the collection of the museum in Germany and is now housed at the newly established Humboldt Forum in Berlin.

Nihonbashi Bridge

Nihonbashi Bridge was originally built in 1603, during the early days of the Tokugawa shogunate. The following year, it was designated as the starting point for each of the five main highways (gokaidō): Tōkaidō, Nakasendō, Kōshū Kaidō, Ōshū Kaidō, Nikkō Kaidō. One theory about the origin of the name, which translates as “Japan Bridge,” is that the bridge was located in the heart of Edo, which was the political center of Japan at the time, making it the bridge at the heart of Japan. Because it was made of wood, the bridge was lost several times in the many fires for which Edo was famous. The current double-arched stone bridge was built in 1911 in a renaissance-style, and it has withstood both earthquakes and wartime fires. At the center of the bridge are statues of kirin (mythical creatures), and on the main pillar is a nameplate with “Nihonbashi” in calligraphy done by the last Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837–1913). In 1972, a marker commemorating the “zero milestone” of national highways in Japan was embedded in the road in the center of the bridge. Overhead, the bridge is covered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway, constructed in 1964 to coincide with the opening of the Tokyo Olympics. The portion of the expressway above the bridge is to be relocated underground, with completion scheduled around the year 2040, bringing blue skies back to Nihonbashi Bridge.


The Nihonbashi Area during the Edo Period

With the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate by Tokugawa Ieyasu, construction of the castle town began in earnest. Mount Kanda was leveled, and the rocks and soil were used to reclaim land in the Yaesu area in front of Edo Castle. To the east of the castle, a residential area was developed for merchants. The Nihonbashi Bridge was built over the canal (now the Nihonbashi River) that was excavated from Edo Castle to the Sumida River. Not far from the bridge, the district of Tenmachō was established as a transit hub that supported traffic and transportation systems. That area became the center of communication and handled the delivery of official documents of the shogunate. Utilizing the Nihonbashi River and the many canals in the area, ships brought goods from all over Japan directly to Edo. The goods were then transferred to smaller boats and delivered to locations along the riverside.

From Toto Famous Places Nihonbashi Shinkei Parallel Fish Market Complete
              Map Hiroshige Utagawa, around Tenpo (1830-1844), owned by the National Diet Library “True View of Nihonbashi Bridge, Together with a Complete View of the Fish Market” From “Tokyo Tōto Meisho” ca. 1830–1844 by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). (National Diet Library)

Edo was very much a “consumer city,” and merchants dealing in various goods, and coming from all over Japan, set up shops in the Nihonbashi area. These merchants procured goods for the shogunate and daimyo, and the area became Japan’s foremost trading center. The Nihonbashi area had riverside fish markets, kabuki theaters, and pleasure quarters officially sanctioned by the shogunate, such as the Yoshiwara. A mint was even established in the area. It was such a profitable district that it was said that 3,000 ryō changed hands every morning, noon, and night. People and information from all over Japan were to be found there, including persons of culture. Along with samurai living in the city, Edo culture was also supported by financially powerful merchants, leading to the flourishing of “merchant culture” during the later Edo period.
The Nihonbashi area was truly a place of prosperity as the center of transportation, economics, and information for all of Japan.

Tohto Daidenma-gai Prosperity
              Map Hiroshige Utagawa 14th year of Tenpo (1843) -4th year of Koka (1847) Collection of the National Diet Library “Edo’s Prosperous Ōdenma District” ca. 1843–1847 by Utagawa Hiroshige. (National Diet Library)