Ukiyo-e print maker Katsushika Hokusai is undoubtedly Japan’s most iconic artist, and his maritime masterpiece, Great Wave off Kanagawa, is perhaps the most reproduced image in the world.
Although you have certainly come across reproductions of his work before, if you are visiting Tokyo you may be wondering: where is the best place to view Hokusai’s art in person? Here are a couple of suggestions to add to your itinerary!
Sumida Hokusai Museum
The first port of call for the Hokusai enthusiast should be the newly completed Sumida Hokusai Museum dedicated entirely to this prolific artist. Located in Tokyo’s north-eastern Sumida ward, the collection opened to the public in November last year and has proven a hugely popular destination for locals and visitors alike.
Here you can experience an intelligently curated, multilingual and interactive display documenting the many stages of Hokusai’s career. Aside from the iconic wave, Hokusai composed over 30,000 prints, sketches and paintings throughout his lifetime. His greatest hits, like the Great Wave, are included in the museum's permanent collection of course, but it is fascinating to see the development of his artistic style through his lesser known works.
The print below, for example, is an earlier composition of Kanagawa’s treacherous coastline, which shows the versatility and imagination of Hokusai's art.
The temporary galleries do a wonderful job highlighting specific aspects of Hokusai’s skills, although there is less English information available than in the permanent gallery.
How to get to the Sumida Hokusai Museum
Name in Japanese: すみだ北斎美術館 (Sumida Hokusai Bi-jutsu-kan)
Address: 2-7-2 Kamezawa, Sumida-ku, Tokyo (see on Google Maps)
Transport: Ryogoku subway (about 30 mins from Tokyo main station)
Open: 9:30-5:30, closed Mondays. Best to avoid weekends if you can! See more details here.
Ota Memorial Museum of Art
Hokusai made an incomparable contribution to the discipline of the woodblock print, but to really understand his work, it needs to be viewed in the context of those artists that came before, and others that followed. To get a more complete view of ukiyo-e art, your next stop should be the Ota Memorial Museum of Art.
This museum is a bit more centrally located in the Harajuku area, where you will doubtless find yourself eventually if you head out for a little shopping. It is not a large space, so at any given time they are only able to exhibit a portion of their massive collection of woodblock prints; but most exhibitions will contain some wonderful examples of Hokusai’s work.
How to get to the Ota Memorial Museum
Name in Japanese: 太田記念美術館 (Ota Kinen Bi-jutsu-kan)
Address: 1-10-10 Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (see on Google Maps)
Transport: Meiji-jingu-mae subway or Harajuku station
Open: 10:30-5:30, closed Mondays. Also best to avoid weekends! See more details here.
Have you seen any of Hokusai's work in person? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!