This lovely museum is devoted to the work of Katsushika Hokusai, Japan's most famous ukiyoe artist, who lived and worked for most of his life here in this traditional neighborhood. The wide-ranging permanent collection provides a good overview of Hokusai's life and the evolution of his artistic styles and subject matter, while the larger temporary-exhibit area, spread out over two floors, is devoted to several thematic shows per year.
One surprising exhibit is a life-size recreation of Hokusai's tiny work studio. There's a mannequin of an elderly Hokusai about to apply a brush stroke to a work in progress. But if you're patient you'll notice that once every minute or so Hokusai's hand moves ever so slightly, as he dabs his brush against the paper in front of him. Museum-goers gasp in surprise as they realize that what they thought was a mannequin is actually a slow-moving animatronic Hokusai robot.
You can also learn how woodblock prints are produced, and play with several interactive touch-screen panels that illustrate various aspects of Hokusai's work. For example one display lets you choose different classic patterns to decorate the inner and outer layers of a woman's kimono, which instantly changes on screen as you touch different patterns. Other displays allow you to flip through the onscreen pages of entire illustrated books.
There's a good level of English-language signage in the permanent section, although video programs tend to be in Japanese only. The museum shop offers the usual books and post cards as well as more unexpected souvenirs such as Hokusai-themed jigsaw puzzles and coasters, cookies, candies and sodas.
The five-story museum is clad in aluminum, with glass-enclosed tunnel-like spaces on street level that allow you to walk under the building in a couple of different directions as you peer through the glass walls at the different ground-floor spaces. The building was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Kazuyo Sejima and his firm SANAA, and was completed in November 2016. It is located conveniently close to the Tokyo-Edo Museum, and the two museums can be easily combined in one trip.
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