The Sumida Hokusai Museum in Tokyo 

The previous posts have featured modern art, but today I’d like to write about traditional Japanese art. So I visited the Sumida Hokusai Museum the other day. As you may guess from its name, this museum showcases works of Hokusai, the great  master of Ukiyoe. Their permanent exhibition shows how he’s developed his skills and styles. It’s quite a small room, but gives a good glimpse of his life as an artist.

Currently they have a special exhibition titled “Hokusai the Performer, Electrifying Edo and Nagoya Bicentennial of the Great Daruma“. In 1817, Hokusai organised a performance to paint a huge portrait of Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen Buddihism. It was as big as 120 tatami mats (about 18 x 12m) apparently.
現在、「大ダルマ制作200年記念 パフォーマー☆北斎 〜江戸と名古屋を駆ける〜」が開催中です。1817年に、北斎は巨大なダルマの絵を描くというパフォーマンスを開催しました。その大きさも、120畳(18 x 12 m)だったとのこと。

The exhibition showcases many prints that tell how people used to enjoy street different types of performances and entertainments during the Edo period. Surprisingly they include displays of real elephants, seals and camels. (Japan only had trade with China and Holland during the Edo period but somehow people managed to bring these animals from somewhere.) この展示では、江戸時代の人々が様々な種類のパフォーマンスや芸能を楽しんでいた様子が紹介されています。中には、象やアザラシ、らくだなどを披露する様子を描いているものもありました。(鎖国中だったのに、こんな動物が連れてこられたのですね・・)

The exhibition space is not big at all and it probably takes just over 1 hour to see everything, but this museum has a library specialised in Ukiyoe and anyone can use it for free. The architecture of the museum is wonderful. It’s designed by a Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima. The minimalistic and geometric style gives a very modern and futuristic impression. And the museum is in a park full of children, which is very interesting. When I went there, some kids are playing cards just by the glass window of the museum, and it felt like they were playing inside of the museum. The museum did stand out in the old part of the town (and it’s in front of really normal local supermarket), but somehow it looked welcomed by local people.

Typical places of interest in Ryogoku would be sumo stadium and the Edo Tokyo Museum, but I recommend this museum too!  両国の見所と言えば、国技館や江戸東京博物館が王道だと思うのですが、ここもおすすめです!

Leave a Reply