From Henry D. Smith II, ed., One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, by Hiroshige (New York: G. Braziller and Brooklyn Museum, 1986)

115.  Takada Riding Grounds
        Takada no baba (2/1857)

This is a scene of samurai retainers practicing their military skills at the Takada Riding Grounds in the hilly northwestern suburbs of Edo. In the far distance is Mount Fuji, its faint form outlined in an exquisitely pale pink bekashi. On the gray track in the middle distance, two riders gallop past each other, while at the far end of the broad green lawn, three archers have bared their shoulders to take aim at the large target to the left. The arrows for this type of target practice were normally blunted with cloth so that they would bounce off the leather-faced target, although the one exposed tip lying on the ground is clearly pointed. The face of the target is rendered in fabric-printing, adding an element of textured interest.

        This scene reminds us that half of Edo's population consisted of a hereditary warrior class that, even after more than two centuries of peace, was still expected to keep its military skills honed. The practice of the martial arts was in fact on the rise at the time this print appeared, partly a reflection of a generally heightened bakufu emphasis on education and training following the Kansei Reforms of the 1790s, and partly because of the mounting foreign crisis. As the battles of the following decade would prove, the samurai class was still well prepared to fight. This view also reminds us that Hiroshige was himself of the samurai clasas; his grandfather Tanaka Koemon had, in fact, been an instructor of archery.

        This view is adapted from a similar scene in the Ehon Edo miyage (vol. IV), but it is made much more dramatic by the startling close-up framing. The Ehon Edo miyage view in turn seems to have been derived from an illustration in the Edo meisho zue, from which we can identify the large pine to the left as one in a row that stretched across the northern edge of the track, planted as a windbreak in the Kyocho period (1716-36), a century after the riding grounds were built in 1636. The trees provided a shady spot where local farmers could set up teahouses, and in time the Takada Riding Grounds became a pleasant place for suburban outings, even for those with no interest in horses or archery.

        The entire track, judging from late Edo and early Meiji maps, was about 60 yards wide and 400 yards long (considerably less than the 6 cho —716 yards — reported in the Edo meisho zue). After the Restoration, the land passed into private hands and was soon filled with houses, as it remains today, along the northern side of Waseda-dori, just west of Waseda University. The one reminder of the riding grounds is the annual practice of horse-mounted archery (yabusame) in an open space just to the north. The Takada Riding Grounds gave its name to the nearby Takadanobaba Station on the Yamanote Line.