The Sumida Hokusai Museum
The ukiyo-e master’s collection
The Sumida Hokusai Museum is located in the easternmost part of Ryogoku district in Tokyo’s Sumida ward. This art gallery, which opened in November 2016, is dedicated to Katsushika Hokusai, the master of ukiyo-e, or Japanese etchings. The various parts of the permanent exhibition permit the contemplation of some of Hokusai’s best-known landscapes of Japan.
Hokusai, who was born in 1760 in Edo (the former name of Tokyo) in Sumida ward, is naturally associated with this area where he lived most of his life. Part of his inspiration from early childhood is therefore related to Sumida ward. For example, his works depicting water are reminiscent of the net of rivers and canals that spread across downtown Edo at the time.
A visit to the Sumida Hokusai Museum is down-to-earth and focused on education. Hokusai’s works are used to tell the story of the artist and of his time. The visiting course is simple and functional and provides explanations in Japanese and in English about the artist’s methods. The museum’s modern architecture incorporates a great deal of natural light, but it can be quite dark on cloudy days.
The temporary exhibitions are a good complement to the permanent exhibition, so visiting them is strongly recommended. They represent about 75% of the museum and are set up in the biggest of the three exhibition rooms.
Temporary exhibitions are scheduled year-round and are based on the artist’s work. For example, they might focus on his treatment of bridges or his works as a mangaka to celebrate his lineage. Hokusai is indeed often considered the precursor of Japanese manga artists, thanks to the numerous sketchbooks he published under the title Hokusai Manga.
Despite its small area, the permanent exhibition room allows for some interactivity. It is possible to observe details on etchings by zooming on touchscreen panels. This is the perfect opportunity to admire several of Hokusai’s masterpieces from the famous Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji 🗻 print series. The museum also includes a library and a conference room to spread knowledge about the artist’s work.
Katsushika Hokusai’s genius was recognized in his lifetime and is still alive today. Some of the natural landscapes he drew still exist, and the comparison between a contemporary picture of such a place and Hokusai’s depiction is astonishing. The lines and colors recreate the beauty of the sight so wonderfully that the print seems to be alive. It is even more striking when visiting the real place.
The Sumida Hokusai Museum is quite small, but it is worth the visit for ukiyo-e lovers.