Utagawa (also called Ando) Hiroshige is recognized as one of the last great masters of the ukiyo-e tradition. Literally, “pictures of the floating world,” ukiyo-e had largely emphasized erotic and pop cultural subjects, such as beautiful women, kabuki actors, and scenes from history and folk tales, but Hiroshige—following Hokusai—chose to specialize in landscapes and travel series which dovetailed with the rising popularity of tourism in Edo Japan. It is estimated that he created more than 5,000 prints during his lifetime and each is a visual poem unto itself.
Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge is one of his final series, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, which he began on retiring from the world to become a Buddhist monk in 1856. The Brooklyn Museum explains that: “During summer and early fall, the Sumida River was the scene of a custom known as ‘taking in the cool of the evening.’ Activity centered at Ryogoku Bridge, where an endless variety of entertainment was offered on both land and water. The ideal place was not in the crowded stalls of the bridgehead plazas but rather in one of the nearby restaurants or in an individually chartered pleasure boat on the river.
“Fireworks were an indispensable feature of evenings on the river. By the mid-seventeenth century, they were so popular that the threat of fire led authorities to issue decrees restricting their use to the Sumida River.”