Art & Design
The Hokusaikan Museum is a diverse tribute to the renowned Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika who spent several years near the end of his life in the charming town of Obuse, about 20 kilometers northeast of Nagano.
You can easily reach the Hokusaikan Museum with a half-hour train ride from Nagano City.
From Tokyo, Nagano City is a straight one hour and 20-minute ride on the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Osaka and Kyoto also have a shinkansen connection to Nagoya, followed by the Shinano Express to Nagano.
The Nagano Electric Railway will bring you from Nagano to Obuse Station. The museum is just a 12-minute walk away.
Hokusai Katsushika was a master of Ukiyo-e, a Japanese genre of painting and woodblock printing that flourished between the late 17th and late 19th centuries.
Ukiyo-e translates as 'pictures of the floating world,' as the pleasure districts of Tokyo were called in the Edo period (1603-1867). The artform favored depictions of the everyday themes preferred by the merchant classes, including scenes of life in town, beautiful women, and travel landscapes. Hokusai's famous series of Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji was one of these. It includes the renowned painting of the Great Wave off Kanagawa. This Japanese aesthetic, and Hokusai's work, in particular, influenced Western artists like Monet and Van Gogh.
When he arrived in Obuse in 1844 at the behest of a local merchant, Hokusai was one of Japan's most prominent artists. Working from his studio annex, he spent several very productive years on a variety of new creations. The Hokusaikan Museum is a treasure trove of his work from this period. Established in 1976, it includes woodblock prints, hanging scrolls, and two intricately decorated portable shrines, as well as many other works. The museum displays some of Hokusai's rare three-dimensional work.
Hokusai's elaborate ceiling mural at Ganshoin Temple, located about a kilometer away, is a must-see. This Soto Zen temple was founded in 1472, and Hokusai's mural there was one of his final large-scale installations. It's a 30-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride from central Obuse.
Not far from the Hokusaikan Museum is the Takai Kozan Memorial Museum. Here you can view Hokusai sketches, some of Takai Kozan's own work, and the studio, called Hekkiken, that Hokusai worked from.
Obuse has a reputation as one of Japan's most scenic small towns. Streets paved with blocks of chestnut wood are great for slow strolls while popping into the refurbished townscape's many shops and cafes.
The town has long been famous for its chestnuts. You can try all kinds of chestnut confectionaries and cakes at one of Obuse's many charming cafes.
Local sake is popular, with some brews still handcrafted in cedar barrels. Stop by Masuichi-Ichimura brewery or Matsubaya for samples.