Under the Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa

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Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
(富嶽三十六景, Fugaku Sanjurokkei)

Woodblock print title
Under the Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa
(深川万年橋下, Fukagawa Mannen Bashi Shita)

Katsushika Hokusai

This ukiyo-e piece uses perspective to illustrate the expanse and depth of the scenery.
The splendid curvature of the bridge is the first thing that catches the eye.

It is a striking composition as if we are looking up at the Mannen Bridge from a boat on the river, but why does the bridge appear so high? Here are some key points to look for to help you understand. 

What does the title mean?

Fukagawa(深川) The name of a location in present-day Koto Ward, Tokyo
Mannenbashi(万年橋) A bridge located in Koto Ward, Tokyo where the Onagi River running through Fukagawa joined with the Sumida River. 

Where does the scene take place?

The bridge still exists today in Koto Ward, Tokyo, and is named Fukagawa Mannen Bridge.
In the woodblock print, Mount Fuji is suggested to be visible from the bridge, but unfortunately, the sight of the lofty mountain is hindered by buildings today. 

The key elements

  • Arched structure of the bridge
  • Lifestyles of the Edo townspeople
  • Focal point directed toward Mount Fuji

1. Arched structure of the bridge

Why is the bridge constructed so high? The reason is that the entire Fukagawa area, through which the Onagi River flows, is at an elevation below sea level, so both banks of the bridge were raised and masoned, and an arched overpass was built to prevent flooding as well as facilitate the passage of vessels.

On a fine day, people passing over the Mannen Bridge would have been able to see Mount Fuji, as illustrated in this woodblock print.

2. Lifestyles of the Edo townspeople

The composition reveals bustling activity, with numerous people crossing the bridge, but it also captures a glimpse of the daily lives of the townspeople beneath it.
The first thing to notice is the great number of vessels. 

The Onagi River is a man-made waterway constructed by the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu to carry salt from Gyotoku in Chiba to Edo.
Salt and various other goods were transported through this canal to the major consumption city.
The craft pictured on the left is also a transport vessel for such goods.

Then, there’s that lone fisherman depicted in contrast to the crowd on the bridge.

While it's uncertain as to exactly what purpose the person is fishing for, the depiction conveys a sense of the reality of the people living there.
Hokusai allows us to take a peek into the daily lives of the common people in the Edo period.

3. Focal point directed toward Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji may be overlooked at first glance, but if you follow the direction pointed by the bows of the two boats on the river, you can see the mountain beyond the bridge girders.
It is interesting to note that the composition invites the viewer to look toward the discreetly placed mountain.
Mount Fuji, however small it may be, is the focal point of the painting and ties the whole image together.

Other features include the superb use of perspective and the fine bokashi (blurring or gradation) techniques of the printmaker to render the spacial depth of the river and the high expanse of the sky.

There are many elements that add dynamism to the work, such as the oversized bridge placed in the center of the scene, the presence of Mount Fuji standing beyond the bridge, and the contrasting composition of the bustling crowd and the lone fisherman.
Hokusai is known to have resided in the area around Mannen Bridge for some time in his later years.Perhaps, through this art piece, we are witnessing a day in the life of Hokusai as he saw it.

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Woodblock Prints


深川万年橋下, Fukagawa Mannen Bashi Shita