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The Moon Pine in Ueno Park: A Glimpse into Hiroshige's Print

In Edo (old Tokyo), there was a distinctive tradition of naming trees based on their age or unique shapes. Pine trees, known for their longevity and unusual forms, were particularly favoured. The tree featured in a famous woodblock print by Hiroshige was named the Moon Pine, not only for its full, round shape but also because different phases of the moon could be seen when viewing it from various angles. A twentieth-century commentary also referred to it as the Rope Pine, likely due to its resemblance to a loop of rope.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). Moon Pine, Ueno, No. 89 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 7th month of 1856. Woodblock print, sheet: 14 3/16 x 9 1/4 in. Brooklyn Museum

The print showcases Hiroshige’s innovative use of dynamic composition. Hiroshige frequently employed the compositional technique of juxtaposing near and far elements in this series, exploring numerous variations. Even within this dramatic composition, he meticulously attends to small details: the red of the temple building in the bottom right corner harmoniously balances with the red cartouches at the upper right and left centre.

The Moon Pine, was an actual tree at a temple in Edo, exemplifying the Japanese art of arboreal manipulation typically seen in bonsai, but realised on a larger scale. Although the original tree was destroyed in a storm during the Meiji era, it has since been recreated.

View through the moon pine today, Ueno Park, December 2023

“Moon Pine at Ueno” is part of the series One Hundred Views of Famous Places in Edo, the final series Hiroshige created before his death. Originally intended to feature one hundred views of notable locations in Edo, the series expanded to 118 prints over three years due to its popularity.

The same view but from a slightly different angle is depicted in another print by Hiroshige.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). Kiyomizu Hall and Shinobazu Pond at Ueno, No. 11 in One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 4th month of 1856. Woodblock print, Image: 13 3/8 x 9 in. . Brooklyn Museum

Kiyomizu Hall in Ueno Park, established in 1631, was part of an ambitious plan to create a grand Buddhist temple complex in Edo, modelled after the Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto, intended to provide spiritual protection from the northeast, the direction believed to be a source of evil spirits. The hall is renowned for its nearby cherry blossoms and the scenic view it offers. However, even in Hiroshige's time, the actual panorama was less impressive than depicted in his print, which exaggerates the veranda's width extending from the temple and portrays the pine trees as towering giants.

The Kiyomizu Hall at Ueno Park exemplifies the artistic liberty and imaginative flair of Hiroshige, a master of ukiyo-e. His depiction of this historic site, with its exaggerated veranda and towering pine trees, invites viewers to appreciate both the actual and the idealised beauty of Edo.

This blending of reality and artistry is a testament to Hiroshige’s genius and his ability to capture the spirit of a place, even enhancing it through his unique vision. As we explore these prints, we not only gain insight into the historical and cultural significance of sites like Kiyomizu Hall and the Moon Pine but also witness the creative process of an artist who left an indelible mark on the world of Japanese art. Through Hiroshige’s eyes, we are reminded of the enduring beauty and transformative power of artistic interpretation.


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