The "enlightenment" of Japan during the Meiji period (1868-1912: 明治時代) featured the promotion of industry, communication, and commerce through the development of telegraph (1869), telephone (1877), and postal networks (by 1877, the postal system had become a great success and joined the International Postal Union). Japan's modernzation also embraced the construction of railways. On July 8, 1853, when American Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into the harbor at Tokyo Bay, he brought with him technological wonders as gifts for the emperor to impress the Japanese with the superior achievements of western culture. Among these was a quarter-size steam engine, complete with 350 feet of 18-inch track.
A rail line between Tokyo and Yokohama was inaugurated on October 14, 1872. In the Kansai region, an early rail transportation system was also established. In May 1874, the line was completed between Osaka and Kobe; in September 1876, Osaka to Kyoto. The following year, on February 5th, the through-line opened between Kyoto and Kobe (via Osaka) and the Emperor Meiji made the round trip. He gave his opening speech at Kyoto station, but this print shows the ceremony taking place at Osaka Station, which, incidentally, was not a dead-end terminus station, as Hiroshige III has drawn in the composition shown here.
Public fascination with technologies from the West resulted in a vogue for compositions such as this view of the Kyoto-Kobe rail line. Edo artists in particular issued a variety of images celebrating the new Japanese steam trains.
Hiroshige III (1842-1892 or 1893: 三代 歌川広重) was the son of an Edo shipbuilder. He studied first with Hiroshige I (1797-1858) and then Hiroshige II (1826-1869). He began as the artist Isshôsai Shigemasa and married the adopted daughter of Hiroshige I (Otatsu) after she divorced Hiroshige II.
The preservation of color in this example is especially fine.
An ireki (a design with block changes, lit., "inserting wood": 入木) version of this design, with a different title, was used later for a view of Tokyo's Ueno Station. Our earlier version showing Hiroshige III's conception of Osaka station is much rarer than the ireki edition.