His natural inclination towards drawing (he was already moderately well-known for an excellent painting of a procession of Ryukyu delegates) led to an apprenticeship at the age of 15 with the noted Utagawa Toyohiro, who bestowed upon him the name "Hiroshige". Hiroshige would later take his master's name, becoming "Utagawa Hiroshige."
Hiroshige succeeded his father and lived in the barracks until he turned 43 years of age. Gen'emon died in 1809, when Hiroshige was just 13 years old, forcing him to take his father's position early. He did not shirk his duties as a fire-fighter, fulfilling them even after he had entered training in Utagawa Toyohiro's ukiyo-e school in 1811, and even when he had become an acclaimed wood-block print artist. He eventually turned his position over to Hiroshige II (his adopted heir, Shigenobu) in 1832. Legend has it that Hiroshige determined to become a ukiyo-e artist when he saw the prints of his near-contemporary, Hokusai. More likely though, like many other low-ranked samurai, Hiroshige's salary was insufficient for his needs, and this motivated him to look into artisanal crafts to supplement his income. It was easy to balance his job and his artistic pursuits as a fireman was only intermittently busy.In his early apprenticeship to Toyohiro, he showed little sign of the artistic genius he would later be known for, and did not publish much; despite earning an artistic name ("Ichiyusai Hiroshige") and school license at the young age of 15, Hiroshige's first publication came only in 1818 (six years later). It is speculated he wiled away this time engaging in work for Toyohiro's school, like painting fans and other small items- this would support him as he continued to study Kano and Shijo painting styles.
He largely confined himself to common ukiyo-e themes such as women (bijin-ga) and actors; nor did he fully devote himself to his art. Only when he was 27 did he transfer the headship of his clan to his uncle. But Hiroshige made a dramatic turn about, when after 17 years, Toyohiro died, and Hiroshige came out with the landscape series Views of Edo (1831), which was critically acclaimed for its composition and colors. With Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido (1833 – 1834), his success was assured; the prints, drawn from Hiroshige's actual travels of the full 490 kilometers, along with details of day, location, and anecdotes of his fellow travelers, were immensely popular. Hiroshige would go on to produce more than 2000 (of his estimated total 5000) different prints of the Edo and Tokaido Road areas, as well as fine series such as Sixty-nine Stations on the Kisokaido.
He had little competition, dominating landscape prints. But
as the years passed, Hiroshige determined to produce truly
great art, and not the effortless works that characterized
most of his work. In 1856, working with the publisher Uoya
Eikichi, he determined to produce a series of prints of surpassing
quality, made with the finest printing techniques including
true gradation of color, the addition of mica to lend a unique
iridescent effect, embossing, fabric printing, blind printing,
and the use of glue printing (wherein ink is mixed with glue
for a glittery effect). Hiroshige was now 60 years old, and
had taken vows as a Buddhist monk. He was fully aware of his
approaching death. 100 Famous Views of Edo (1856 – 1858)
was immensely popular, and eventually reached a total of 118
printings, where Hiroshige had intended only about 100. In
fact, not all of the prints were by him, as he perished aged
62 in the great Edo cholera epidemic of 1858.