Are you a fan of the ukiyo-e superstar, Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎)? He is a world-renowned Japanese artist of the Edo period. A museum known as the Sumida Hokusai Museum (すみだ北斎美術館) has recently opened in November 2016, which is a dedication to his artworks and masterpieces. It has been designed in ethereal forms and with a high-level of refinement by Kazuyo Sejima (妹島和世), a Japanese architect known for his designs with clean modernist elements. The museum will also help you learn more about Hokusai as a man, including his life and what the city looked like during the Edo period. Let’s learn more about him and the museum!
Katsushika Hokusai belonged to an artisan family. He was born during the Horeki period in the Katsushika District of Edo. In his childhood days, he was known as “Tokitaro,” but it is said that he was known by at least 30 names in his lifetime. His frequent name change is related to the changes in his artistic production and style.
His father, Nakajima Ise (中島伊勢), was known as the mirror maker of the shoguns. Hokusai started painting at the age of 6. It is said that he learned the art from his father who also made mirror designs. By the time he turned 12, he was sent by his father to work in a bookshop and lending library. Books during this time were made from woodcut blocks. Reading them was considered a way of entertaining those in the middle and upper classes.
After working in the library, Hokusai became an apprentice to a woodcarver at the age 14. He stayed in this job for 4 years. Later on, he worked in Katsukawa Shunsho’s (勝川春章) studio where he was able to practice making woodblock prints and paintings particularly focusing on the images of courtesans and Kabuki actors.
Hokusai was married to his first wife who died in the 1790s and then had a second wife. He fathered two sons and three daughters with his two wives. Among his children, the youngest daughter eventually became an artist like him.
Hokusai then explored different styles of art including European styles. From the images of courtesans and actors, his subject switched to landscapes and the daily life of Japanese people. This change in subject was regarded as a breakthrough in his career.
Hokusai was later on associated with the Tawaraya (俵屋) School where he produced several brush paintings and illustrations. He freed his ties from the school and set out as an independent artist.
In 1800, Hokusai adopted the name “Katsushika Hokusai,” which particularly refers to the part of Edo where he was born. He started having his own students which made him increasingly famous over the next decade.
In 1807, Hokusai collaborated with Takizawa Bakin (滝沢馬琴), a popular novelist. However, due to their artistic differences, they did not get along very well. Their collaboration quickly ended.
In 1811, Hokusai changed his name to “Taito” and created the Hokusai Manga and various art manuals. In 1820, he changed his name to “Iitsu” which marked the period of his secured name. This was also the time he reached the peak of his career.
Later on in his life, Hokusai was seen working under the name “Gakyo Rojin Manji” where he produced the ever-popular “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽百景).” This was considered a masterpiece among his landscape picture books.
In 1839, a fire disaster struck Hokusai’s studio which burned much of his work. This was also the time his career began to wane as younger artists were becoming increasingly popular. However, he never stopped painting and continued to constantly produce better work.
Hokusai died on April 18, 1849, and was buried at Seikyo-ji (誓教寺) in Tokyo (東京). As an influential person, his long career provided a lot of influence on Japanese culture and history. Most of his important works were produced after the age of 60.
The Sumida Hokusai Museum is a 4-story structure consisting of both permanent and rotating exhibits. A massive display of more than 1,800 works of art by Hokusai can be found in the place. The location of the museum is where Hokusai spent most of his career working and creating artwork. This is a great way to spend a day in Ryogoku as you also get to learn the ukiyo-e master. You’ll also get the chance to know the life of Hokusai in Sumida, as well as check out the master’s atelier.
The museum’s logo, which has a sharp and strong form, represents a lot of intensity and energy. This was the unique idea of Kiyoji Takase (高瀬 清二) which was chosen based on an open call for entries in 2009. The philosophy of the museum is disseminating information around the world and this is represented by the spreading lightning bolt.
During the opening of the museum, several exhibits were displayed such as the complete version of Hokusai’s “Sumidagawa Ryogan Keshiki Zukan.” This is a grand work which has been acquired by the museum in 2015. After being auctioned in France in the early 20th century, this artwork was thought to have been lost. It was only rediscovered a few years ago. Another artwork which was highlighted in the opening was “The Return of Hokusai” which consists of 120 pieces from some of the master’s iconic prints to hand-down originals.
The Sumida Hokusai Museum is located in Kamezawa, Sumida, Tokyo (東京都墨田区亀沢) and is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. except on Mondays. Admission fee is 400 yen for adults, 300 yen for high school and university students, while admission is free for middle school students and below.
The museum is well refined basing it on social and physical context. The designer created an angular structure to reflect and encompass Hokusai’s own interests in oblique angles, as well as contrasts such as near or far. Everything is manmade and natural. There’s also a gift shop in the museum in which general admission is not a requirement so you can also visit it if you like. Certain spaces for rotating exhibitions and permanent collections have been made so it will be easy for viewers and visitors to navigate.
If you’re ever in Tokyo, this is one of the historical places worth visiting where you can fully enjoy art. This is a great place for ukiyo-e fans as it is not only informative but beautiful as well.