In this prospering commercial center, economic power resided with the wealthy townspeople. Artistic patronage and production no longer belonged only to the ruling elite but reflected diverse tastes and values. A new urban culture developed, valuing the cultivation of leisure that was celebrated in annual festivals, famous local sites, the theater, and pleasure quarters. The rich urban experience and the landscape of the time were documented byukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world," including woodblock prints like Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Since they could be purchased inexpensively—one print cost the same as a bowl of noodles—refined images became accessible to a wide audience.
Hiroshige was born a low-ranking member of the samurai class. He inherited his father's official post within the shogunal fire-fighting organization (jōbikeshi), which protected Edo castle and the residences of the shogun's retainers. The majority of samurai retainers lived in chronic poverty and were forced to take side jobs to supplement their meager stipends. At age thirty-one, Hiroshige began to study under the ukiyo-emaster Utagawa Toyohiro, who gave him the artist's name by which he is remembered. He subsequently led a very successful career in designing series of color landscape prints, such as the famous Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido, 1832, and was considered the foremost artist of topographical prints, best known for capturing the atmospheric effects of place and season.
Only a few years after commodore Matthew Perry's mission to open Japan to the West in 1853–54, Hiroshige produced the most ambitious series of his career; prior to this work, landscape print series never attempted so many individual views. Issued between 1856 and 1858, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo was called Hiroshige's "grand farewell performance," since he died in 1858, during a cholera epidemic. The series, actually comprising 118 prints, remains not only the last great work of Japan's most celebrated artist of the landscape print but also a precious record of the appearance, and spirit, of Edo at the culmination of more than two centuries of uninterrupted peace and prosperity.