Discover the World’s Largest Collection of Ukiyo-e – Pictures of the Floating World

Everyone is probably familiar with the image of a giant wave with two boats in the foreground and a small Mt. Fuji in the background. This famous artwork is called “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” and was made by Katsushika Hokusai, arguably Japan’s best-known artist from the Edo period (or in general). What he produced wasn’t really a painting though, but a print created from carved woodblocks. This traditionally Japanese art genre is called “ukiyo-e” and literally translates to “pictures (e) of the floating world (ukiyo)”. It developed as an art form in the 17th century during the Edo period, which was a time when the economy grew rapidly, and the lifestyles of the Japanese changed to focus more on pleasure. This lifestyle was described as living in a “floating world”, hence the name of the pictures that were created in that time.

As you can see on the print above, people were certainly focusing more on the fun aspects of life.

The Making of an Ukiyo-E

Simply said, ukiyo-e prints are made by pressing a woodblock on paper. However, there is quite some work that goes into making the woodblocks, as well as the paper, so ukiyo-e prints were generally made by a team of people, each with their own role. The team would include artists (eshi) who designed the image, woodcarvers (horishi) who would carve the image on a woodblock, printers (surishi) who would handle the woodblock printing, and publishers (hanmoto) who would handle the sales/business side of things.

Hair is one of the most difficult things to carve due to the fine detail that was needed.

The process would start with the artist drawing a picture on thin paper with black ink which would be glued to a woodblock and the carver used that as a guideline to carve out the image. After that the artist would instruct the carver what colors would be used in what parts of the image.

The museum has a distinctly modern, no-fuss design. It feels deliberate in a way, so that the focus is on the pictures instead of the building’s design.

The Japan Ukiyo-E Museum

Some 25 minutes by bus away from Matsumoto Station, you will find The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum. This museum has more than 100,000 prints, making it the largest private collection of ukiyo-e in the world! The ukiyo-e prints have been collected by the Sakai family throughout the years and have been handed down from generation to generation. As their collection kept growing, the family decided to hold exhibitions around the world to show off these amazing works, and in 1982 they opened the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto where the displayed works are being changed every couple of months.

Dozens of masterpieces are displayed on the wall and in glass cases. To be able to see such wonderful prints up close is definitely worth the visit to the museum.

A New Perspective of Kameido Tenmangu Shrine by Katsushika Hokusai.

Besides the work of the master Katsushika Hokusai, you’ll also find prints done by Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi, two other world-famous artists that specialized in ukiyo-e. There are descriptions in Japanese and English next to the prints, so you’ll know what kind of things are shown in the image.

The people are participating in the Lion Dance or Shishimai, which is a popular dance during festivals.
On this picture, there is a man dressed up as an octopus, but we're not sure if he’s part of a special dance or just dressing up for fun.
The big guy on the right is feasting on some soba noodles, the local specialty of Nagano Prefecture. It seems like the man on the left is scared that he might be the next meal.

The exhibition currently on display is called “Annual Events in Edo; Pleasures of the Seasons” and revolves around the four seasons in Japan and shows how life was during this time. Festivals are a big part of Japanese culture and many woodblocks prints feature these events. You can see this exhibition until December 22nd.

Once you’re done with looking at the wonderful masterpieces on display, you can take a look in the shop next to the entrance. While it’s on the smaller side, the store is packed with all kinds of ukiyo-e-themed goods such as postcards, magnets and offset printed famous ukiyo-e artworks.

They have some awesome ukiyo-e postcards of Japanese warriors that look like they come straight out of the ancient legends! Of course, you can also choose a postcard with the design of one of the more famous prints.

If you want to decorate your room, why not go for one of these bigger ukiyo-e prints? There are official offset printed artworks sold at the museum’s shop for an affordable price.

In the center of Matsumoto (across the PARCO mall), you will find the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum Shop that sells the same kind of things. Want to get yourself something related to ukiyo-e but don’t have the time to go to the museum, then be sure to swing by this shop.

You can even make your own little ukiyo-e at the museum! By using several color stamps in a specific order, you’ll be able to create an image of the exterior of the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum. Pretty cool!
There’s a small seating area with a television that shows the history of ukiyo-e and the process of how they’re made.

If you’re interested in the traditional Japanese art of ukiyo-e, you can’t miss out on a visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum while you’re in Matsumoto!

Business Hours

10:00~17:00 (last entry at 16:30)
Closed on Monday (expect if Monday is a national holiday, then it’s closed the following day)
Price: Adults 1,000 JPY, Students 500 JPY, Child (under 12 y.o.) Free.

The bus stop at the Ukiyo-E Museum.

How to Get There

From Matsumoto Station, take the Town Sneaker bus (West Course) that departs from the Alps Exit (opposite to the Castle Exit) and get off at the Ukiyo-e Hakubutsukan/Rekishinosato bus stop. Buses are rather infrequent though, with the bus only stopping at the museum during its “long course”, so check the timetable beforehand if you plan on going by clicking here.

A one-time trip on the Town Sneaker costs 200 JPY, but there is a special Town Sneaker One-Day Bus Ticket for 500 JPY (250 JPY for children) that allows you unlimited rides on the Town Sneaker buses, as well as the Matsumoto One Day Pass for 800 JPY (400 JPY for children) which not only includes unlimited rides on the Town Sneaker, but on local buses to the Asama Onsen and Utsukushigahara areas as well.

Both of these special tickets give you discounts for several sightseeing spots in Matsumoto such as Matsumoto Castle. You can purchase them at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal.

To get to Matsumoto City, please check out the bus timetable of your desired route below.
● Shinjuku – Matsumoto
● Nagoya – Matsumoto
● Osaka/Kyoto – Matsumoto
● Takayama – Matsumoto
● Narita Airport/Tokyo Disney Resort® – Matsumoto

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