Katsushika Hokusai is probably Japan’s most famous artist. Born in 1760 and dying in 1849, he is created an incredible catalog of work which included such paintings as The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Fine Wind Clear Morning (both from the famed Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series of woodblock prints) and The Ghost of Oiwa. Now, he has a museum that is dedicated to his works and his career. If you are a lover of ukiyo-e or art in general, this place needs to be on your bucket list.
From the outside, the museum is one very cool-looking place. Minimal? Striking? Stunning? It is all those things, but the first time I went there I was a little bemused at the location. The museum occupies one half of a block, the other half is filled by a children’s playground. Typical Japanese playground and a modern art museum just didn’t seem a good match. Anyway, let’s put that aside as it is only a minor point.
Buy your tickets on the first floor then take the elevator to the fourth floor. Before I forget there are two types of ticket on sale, one allows you into the permanent exhibit and the other allows you into the temporary exhibit (temporary in the sense that the contents changes on a regular basis). The permanent exhibition is on the fourth floor as is one of the temporary exhibits, another temporary exhibit is on the third floor.
The permanent exhibit is small, very small, but it is packed with a lot of high-quality art. Many copies of his famous works can be seen there. I wouldn’t let the size of the place worry you as the displays are so good. And it isn’t only the art, you can also something about the man and the process of making ukiyo-e.
In the Edo-period the making of ukiyoe was quite sophisticated. They were put out by publishing houses on an almost industrial-level scale. This is the type of thing the museum goes into considerable depth to explain. You can even see a life-like Hokusai and daughter working in his studio!
Many of the prints though, are really quite small, maybe comparable to the Mona Liza? By that I mean don’t expect everything to be big. A few are quite large, but many are not.
One thing many people will appreciate is the that there is plenty of touch-panel displays are multi-lingual so you won’t miss out on anything. By using them you can virtually flip through books of Hokusai's pictures and learn about their histories.
The only thing I didn’t appreciate about the museum itself was the lack of stairs from the first floor. You had to take the elevator. I think some people would prefer taking the stairs as it is only a short distance and would prefer that rather than waiting.
At the end of your visit you can make your way through the souvenir shop that offers quality books (all in Japanese) as well as imaginative Hokusai-related goods, including jigsaw puzzles and cookies. If you were to visit the Sumida Hokusai Museum, you could combine it with a visit to the Edo-Tokyo museum and maybe even Tokyo Metropolitan Memorial Hall or Ryogoku Kokugikan on the same day as they are all within easy walking distance of each other. There is even a small park very close worthy of a quick visit.
Anyway, it is a great place to kill an hour or two by looking at some great art. If you wish to see its website click this link here.
How to get to the Sumida Hokusai Museum
There are two stations you can use, both at Ryogoku. One is for the JR (Sobu) line and the other is for the Oedo subway line. From Ryogoku station use the east exit and from the subway line use exit A3. Here is a Google map to help you:
The Sumida Hokusai Museum is open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm with last admission at 5 pm. On Mondays and from December 29 to January 1 it is closed.
General admission is ￥400. For the temporary exhibits please check at the counter.
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