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Written by: Sjaak Mintjens
Date: 2013/04/25

Museum with their work cut out for them.

 I like art, but I am not a big museum person. I tend to rush through museums or I tend to get sleepy at museums. But the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto was recommended to me by some friends so I decided to give it a go. Little did I know that I would soon be absorbed in a conversation with the owner of the collection.


A different hobby/profession

 Ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints, not just a form of art, but a very unique wood craftsmanship. Where the artists create pieces of art with the finest lines imaginable and demand the wood artisans to cut out those lines with the same precision and on top of that, in several layers. This is the first point brought to my attention by the JUM (Japan Ukiyo-e Museum) in Matsumoto and I realized that these artists literally have their work cut out for them. The museum’s collection is a private collection of the Sakai family who has been collectors of ukiyo-e ever since the late 18th century and possibly have world’s most impressive collection with a total of 100.000 ukiyo-e. However, the whole collection is not on display at the same time, this is done purposely so that the ukiyo-e will be excessively exposed to light for the sake of preservation.


Never the same

A personal vendetta I have, with museums in general, is that a museum is almost always the same no matter how often you go there, with an extra exhibition so now and then. The museum will have a steady image and it and they often do deliver a good impact the first time around, but it usually does not leave much left for revisiting. This is not the case with the JUM. Ukiyo-e are up for display for one to three months after which some may be taken off display for several years. This means that you will not always be able to see the original works that you have wanted to see, but on the other hand, you will always be able to see and enjoy something you have not yet seen before. To compliment thiPhotos, the JUM works with themes all year around. Every three months a new exhibition with a theme will be available for viewing with each time a 70 to 100 ukiyo-e on display, which for me is already more than plenty. The museum works hard on thinking a theme and even harder on the selection of a 100 ukiyo-e from the total 100.000. Also, they always try to link it with a local event, like for example the famous classic musical Saito Kinen Festival held every year in Matsumoto, or the craft fair that is every year near the end of May, to which they match the theme as shown in the picture. Thanks to these themes, every time you would go back to the JUM, you can expect a new theme with coherent ukiyo-e that you have never seen before and a theme that can possibly be felt throughout all of Matsumoto. Not only does being guided through such a theme make a visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto interesting, but as you will experience a new theme with different ukiyo-e each time, it sure does make you want to go back for seconds. Maybe not the most practical for foreigners that do not intend to go to Japan several times, but you can still get that one time a really good experience.


Admirable pieces of art

 When walking around the ukiyo-e museum, there were certainly beautiful ukiyo-e, but that was not what was keeping me busy 100% of the time. With the newly attained knowledge I was looking at the ukiyo-e in a different light, I was looking at the carvings made by the artisans and was astonished to see lines that were actually cut out that were thinner than I could draw a line with an average pencil. It was as if I was being deceived, but they were undoubtedly made by artisans. It threw me off and left me in awe at many ukiyo-e. However, in the end, there is always a story to a picture, and knowing the story always makes it more interesting, but the information that you can put on a flash card is limited..


“I do not understand the picture.”

 There could be thousands of pictures up on display and I would still only be able to understand a handful at best. But at the JUM the people have a passion greater than I have ever experienced in museums anywhere in the world. If you can speak some Japanese then the owner of the collection will be more than happy to explain to you details about the ukiyo-e. I also saw a Japanese guy at the museum who went head on head in a discussion with the owner about an ukiyo-e, which ended up in an over-victorious owner. So do not be afraid and ask for some explanation, because there is quite some information that is not written on the cards and that they would more than love to share. Don’t speak any Japanese? No problem! In the weekend there is a good chance to come across an English speaking guide whom you will probably not come across during the week, so if you are planning to go and you do not speak any Japanese then recommend going in the weekend. Because there will most likely be quite a few things that you may not have noticed by yourself, like the lady in the picture playing a violin in a bit peculiar way, as if it were a shamisen (a Japanese stringed instrument) because the artist had never seen an actual violin being played it did not know the proper usage and figured it would be in the same manner as a shamisen. Like this example you may find plenty of other ukiyo-e that show you something that you did not notice by merely looking at the picture.


 Worth a visit

 Some people may be concerned about the admittance fee. But, if I can go there and get more explained with passion than they could ever write on any card, I will gladly pay that extra price as cost for the service.

Also, some people may be concerned about the distance from the city center and sure, the JUM is a little bit removed from the city center, but with a very short train ride and a little walk across a rural area you quickly arrive to the museum. Some websites advised to go by taxi, but it is not too difficult to access by public transport. Just do remember, it is a one-man train going there and Oniwa station has no ticket gates, so leave the train at the front and when boarding do not forget to get a little ticket from the machine inside the train on your way back for the ticket service back in Matsumoto!

 Other than that it is easily accessible by public transport, there is one more reason why you might want to avoid a taxi. When leaving the JUM and you are in for a good meal, head down the road towards the station, but instead of going through the tunnel to cross the street, pass the entrance of the tunnel and turn left. There is a little eatery located there which serves some good Japanese home-cooking. Which will surely make your trip complete! Or at least, it did for me!



  I know I will go back there at least one more time, thanks to the passion the people at the ukiyo-e museum have and their desire to make your visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum the best possible. And there is the also the curiosity of ‘what theme will be awaiting me next time...’



 You can reach the Ukiyo-e Museum by taking the Matsumoto Dentetsu Train from Matsumoto station to Oniwa station (fourth stop). From there you will have to walk a 15 minutes or so to get to the museum. Other forms of access are shown on the website, but to be honest, the train works just fine. Just make sure you get off in the front and to turn in your train ticket and when going back, be sure to take a ticket from one of the machines within the train so you can pay your ticket in Matsumoto.

 When getting off the train and off the station (on the right side) go left and go straight ahead till you can not go any further. Then go left and go all the way till you hit a tunnel and go through it, once on the other side you will again walk a long straight bit till you see a rice field at a crossing on the right side. Go right at that crossing and go straight ahead till you hit a tunnel that will take you under the street to the otherside, walk a little bit more and you should see the museum.


Japan Ukiyo-e Museum
2206-1, Shinkiri, Shimadachi, Matsumoto-Shi 
Nagano-ken, JAPAN 390-0852
Phone (+81)0263-47-4440 Fax (+81)0263-48-0208
(English available)