View of Komaba (1870)

By the time this triptych depicting a military parade in what is now the Komaba neighborhood of Tokyo was created, much had changed since the early treaties with the U.S. and other European governments--not least of all the name of the Tokugawa capital of Edo. In 1870, the same year this work dates to, Emperor Meiji moved to Edo from Kyoto ("Western Capital"), prompting the city's name to be changed to Tokyo ("Eastern Capital").

This triptych gives hints of what else had changed. The soldiers in the foreground are marching in Western military formations and, in the background, cannon resembling European designs are in use. It should be noted that Western weaponry was not foreign to Japan prior to this time, but the opening of relations with European powers led to a more rapid adoption of their latest military technology, and it would play a major role in the country's internal strife in the 1860s.

While factions within Japan welcomed trade and the exchange of ideas, large elements within the nobility grew increasingly nationalistic, using the Imperial seat as a rallying point for anti-Western sentiment. Their motto, sonno joi, literally equated fealty to the Emperor (sonno) with the idea of expelling foreigners from the country (joi). The Tokugawa were ineffective at appeasing these nobles, ultimately leading the sonno joi movement to turn against them. The young Meiji became the figurehead of anti-Tokugawa dissent, and shortly after his ascension to the throne in 1867, the final Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, was forced to resign. Nominally, at least, the Emperor once again ruled Japan.

View of Komaba (left panel)

by Utagawa Yoshitora


"View of Komaba", left panel

View of Komaba (center panel)

by Utagawa Yoshitora


"View of Komaba", center panel

View of Komaba (right panel)

by Utagawa Yoshitora


"View of Komaba", right panel

View of Komaba (1870)