The Modern Tokyo Times

International news and neglected issues

Japanese art and culture: Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto

Japanese art and culture: Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


Japan is a nation which is very rich in art and culture and the uniqueness of the Shinto faith sums up this country in a certain way. After all, nearly all developed nations had their indigenous faiths swept away by Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, depending on geographic location and respective missionary work. However, Japan managed to preserve a faith which blended naturally with the landscape and wasn’t interested in strict social dogma.

Of course Buddhism impacted on Japan in the past but even today the indigenous faith continues to beat. Therefore, not surprisingly ukiyo-e shows many sides to Japan and this rich form of art also wasn’t abstract but belonged to the people because it represented many things.

Ukiyo-e in all its manifestations highlights the richness of culture in Japan because it shows images of history, nature, culture, theatre, mythology, the spirit world, stunning landscapes, the beauty of women, and other important areas like entertainment. Not only this, the sexual nature is extremely potent even by the standards of liberal nations in the modern world. Also, true to ukiyo-e, then shunga can be purely sexual and explicit or sexuality can be fused within mythology.

Therefore, ukiyo-e relates to the real world, magnificent landscapes, a world of powerful mythology and the spirit world. This is the beauty of ukiyo-e because at times it can be so chaotic but at other times the scene is extremely tranquil and placid.

Not only this, this art form also highlights the complexity of each ukiyo-e artist and shows the huge array of themes open to individuals like Hokusai, Hiroshige, and countless others.

The international appeal of ukiyo-e within the art world can be seen by the fact that Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Félix Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and others, were admirers of ukiyo-e. Therefore, the impact of ukiyo-e within the international art world grew once Japan began to open up just before the Meiji period in 1868 and after this important year in Japanese history. However, just like the chaotic theme within ukiyo-e, this recognition was at a time when this art form was facing new challenges from modernity, which would ultimately eclipse this art form. 

In Matsumoto you have the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum and on their website it states that “The average citizen’s mood of Edo period (1603-1867) was an extremely buoyant and joyful one –not the transitory, heavy atmosphere characteristic of the troubled middle age. The word “ukiyo-e” means “the picture of buoyant world” and incorporates in its meaning the common man’s daily pleasures, such as Kabuki plays, Geisha houses, and so on. The forerunner of Edo period prints was simple drawings that gradually developed into a wood-block, thus satisfying the growth of the demand.”

This comment is part true but also just like all cultures and nations you have many hidden realities which were not so tranquil. In an earlier article I commented that “Obviously the Edo period had darkness within the myths and this applies to the killing of all Christians (because of Buddhist elites and rulers) and brutal methods were used against criminals.  Also, stratification and other factors meant that the Edo period also had major negatives and art can often be used to over-simplify reality. This applies to art all over the world which may neglect serious issues and the marginalized or which may be constrained by cultural and political factors of the day.”

Yet, in general, ukiyo-e does give a major glimpse into the fascinating Edo period and the same applies to the revolutionary Meiji period. This also applies to natural things like fashion and how the creeping Western world was impacting on modern Japan.

More important, ukiyo-e wasn’t exclusive unlike aspects of Western art in the same period which had negative connotations to class, power, and other negative aspects. Therefore, ukiyo-e connected with people from all social backgrounds and this is the beauty of this art form and possibly this fact paved the way in the future for the richness of manga and Japanese anime.

If you love Japanese art then a visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, is a must. On their website it is stated that “Japan Ukiyo-e (Ukiyoe) Museum is a print maker’s dream, holding the largest private collection of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), paintings screens and old books in the world. The Sakai family has collected more than 100,000 pieces over several generations. English information is limited, but there is a pamphlet you can get at the front and the staff members are very friendly.”

Also, irrespective if you are an internal or external tourist, this museum is located in a beautiful part of Japan. Therefore, you can mix your visit with a lovely holiday and this applies to the stunning mountain scenery of Nagano Prefecture. Also, the museum is located in Matsumoto and this city is a fantastic base because you have a stunning castle and the environment and ambience of this city is very appealing. 

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum is a real gem and for lovers of art then it is a paradise. Therefore, a visit to this museum will certainly heighten your knowledge of Japanese art, culture and the richness of ukiyo-e.  

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum: 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, 390-0852, JAPAN.

Open: 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m.

Closed on Monday  please visit


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