Located in Wakayama, just south of Osaka, the majestic Mount Nachi Waterfall is the tallest in Japan, more than 400 feet high (133 meters). Over the centuries, it was a commonly visited site for Buddhist, Shintô, ascetic, and mystical folk-belief pilgrimages. During the Edo period, a popular religious journey traced the ancient "Thirty-three Sites of the Western Land," along which one found the waterfall at Mount Nachi near one of three Kumano shrines in the area: Hongû ("main shrine"), Shingû ("new shrine"), and Nachi—together called Kumano Sanzan. Nachisan is also the site of an annual summer fire festival (Nachi no hi matsuri).
Utagawa Hiroshige II (1826-1869: 二代歌川広重) was the son of an Edo hikeshi-dôshin (fire wardens or police). His family name was Suzuki [Morita] Chinpei (鈴木鎮平) and his first artist name Shigenobu (重信). While still a teenager, he studied with Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797-1858: 一代歌川広重), who adopted the young artist. His earliest prints date from around 1840. Hiroshige I provided for Shigenobu in his will and anticipated Shigenobu's succession to the Hiroshige name, which likely took place between 10/1858 and 2/1859, when he also married his master's adopted daughter, Otatsu. Signing as Hiroshige, he followed his teacher's style in fûkeiga (landscape pictures: 風景画) and kachôga (flower and bird pictures: 花鳥画), in a few instances reaching heights worthy of Hiroshige I. One of the first Japanese artists to be exhibited in Europe, Hiroshige II enjoyed some critical acclaim when some of his works were selected by the government for inclusion in the 1867 Paris exhibition. A few of his surviving paintings are considered the equal of Hiroshige I. By at least 1860, Hiroshige II also traveled to Yokohama, where he designed prints of Westerners and panoramic harbor views. He divorced Otatsu in 1865, afterwards taking the name Kisai Risshô [Ryûshô]. (According to the painter Ochiai Yoshiiku, Hiroshige II was a quiet honest man who left his wife "without even having eaten his breakfast." Otatsu married the artist Isshôsai Shigemasa, later called Hiroshige III.) Late in his career, he moved to Yokohama, again designing some Yokohama prints). Sadly, Hiroshige II had to abandon painting and printmaking as a way to make a living, resorting to painting pictures on tea boxes and lanterns for export. He died destitute without a family; a friend paid for his funeral expenses.
This dramatic design depicts the falls above the mists as water crashes to the basin floor. The shrine is nestled in the verdant forest at the foot of the falls.
The large series Shokoku meisho hakkei (One hundred views of famous places in the provinces: 諸国名所八景), published from 1859-1861, is known by at least 81 different designs, but appears never to have reached the one hundred cited in the title. The set includes some of the artist's better fûkeiga.