Katsushika Hokusai
Mount Tenpo at the Mouth of the Aji River
c. 1835

Signed: Motome ni ōjite Naniwa no zu o nisu Zen Hokusai I’itsu hitsu; Publisher’s seal: Eijudō (Nishimuraya Yohachi); censor’s seal: kiwame; ōban, yoko-e, 26.3 x 38.5 cm; nishiki-e with ichimonji-bokashi

From “Remarkable Views of Bridges in Various Provinces”. This print shows the hilly terrain at the mouth of the Aji River near Ōsaka. During the cherry blossom season hordes of excursionists flock to the area. Tenpozan Hill (named for the period between 1830 and 1844 in which it was created) was formed by depositing the fertile river sediment collected when the Aji River had to be dredged. It later became a popular excursion destination. Hokusai created this view in answer to a special request from Ōsaka, basing it on an illustration he had at hand.

Sotheby’s, London (February 1963)
Riese Collection #130

The city of Ōsaka in the early 19th century was probably the most important port in Japan because it was here that the rice shipments from the western provinces were gathered, converted into cash, and transhipped to inland destinations. Unlike Edo, which was situated directly on Edo Bay, Ōsaka lay some miles inland on the banks of the Aji River. By the late 1820s this river had become so laden with silt that larger ships found it difficult to negotiate the channel. The government thereupon decided upon a mammoth public works project, and enlisted the help of large portions of the citizenry to help dredge the river. This work was begun in 1831. The masses of mud and silt which were dredged from the river were transported downstream to the mouth of the river where they were deposited in a mound eventually some 18 meters high. When the project was completed, the government built a lighthouse on top of the newly built hill, planted it with trees of all kinds, and named it Mt. Tenpo after the year period which the project was undertaken. The hill became a favourite sightseeing and picnic area for inhabitants of the nearby city and it appeared frequently in prints, notably the striking set designed by Gakutei and published in Ōsaka in 1834.

Hokusai’s series deserves its title “Strange Bridges of the Provinces” for several reasons. Some of the bridges, like the half-wood half-stone bridge at Fukui were strange in themselves. Others like the Bridge of Boats at Sano, or the Eight-fold Bridge with irises, were taken from history. The print of Tenpozan, although it does have two inconspicuous bridges in it is strange for its curious composition and for the line in the upper right-hand corner of the print beside the signature which says that the print was designed by special request after drawing done from Ōsaka. It was not, in other words, a product of Hokusai’s observation, nor of his imagination. Rather, like the Eight Views of the Loo Choo Islands, it was designed after a book of illustration or another artist’s drawing. Whatever the source of Hokusai’s design, the print was published after the mountain was completed, and after the planting had taken hold, probably in 1834, or 1835 when Tenpozan Meisho Zue “A Guide to Famous Places on Mt. Tenpo” was published in Ōsaka. Since there are eleven subjects known in the Bridges series, and since ten is a more usual number for a set, it is possible that the view of Tenpozan was added as an afterthought, because of interest it had generated.

This is an early impression of the print with gradations on the bands of dark mist along the bottom left, and with the publisher’s mark and censor’s seal which were omitted on later impressions.

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 115.