The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (the MFA) is internationally renowned for its marvelous print collections; especially the William S. and John T. Spaulding Collection and William Sturgis Bigelow Collection. From these, the best fifty-five prints have been selected, including rare first state versions, for our Hoeidō Tōkaidō project with Sarah E. Thompson, the curator for Japanese prints at the MFA. The Tōdaidō was an important highway of the Edo period connecting Edo to Kyoto. Between the two cities, there were fifty-three stations (official rest stops designated by the shogunate), thus the series consists of a total of fifty-five prints.
The majority of prints selected for this project are from the special collection (mentioned previously) known as the Spaulding Collection, a gift of 6,000 prints from William and John Spaulding to the MFA in 1921; it accounts for 12 percent of the total ukiyo-e collection at the MFA. These were donated under the strict condition that they would never be displayed anywhere in public, not even in the galleries of the MFA. This was only because the colors of prints were so delicate and fragile that they would easily fade away.
The MFA made this exception and permitted the fifty-five prints to be reproduced at full-scale in the format of a handscroll; this allows both Japanese and foreign audiences to trail in sequence, one by one, all the fifty-five images from Edo to Kyoto, at either end of the Tōkaidō. In this way the viewer is able to appreciate and experience the true pleasure of the art work as well as the exciting feelings that this travel would inspire.
Because of Hiroshige's elaborate portrayal of human figures, landscapes with the seasonal changes, local events and customs, all in refined compositions, the series was a bestselling publication, matched. with the travel boom of those days. Amongst all the editions from many publishing houses, the Hoeido version has been reputed the best of all, both in the quality of the impression and design. This great masterpiece is the precious cultural heritage not only for the Japanese but also for all those who love art, history and travelling; it contains a global awareness and the thrill of a fresh experience.