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  • 執筆者の写真Michi

HOKUSAI and the SAMURAI World

更新日:1月21日


The special exhibition features Samurai depicted by Katsushika HOKUSAI and his pupils.

It is on view at the Sumida Hokusai Museum from December 14 to February 25, 2024.


Katsushika Hokusai (1760~1849) spent most of his life in Sumida, continued working until 90 since he debuted as an ukiyo-e artist at the age of 20, and produced woodblock prints depicting sketches (art manuals), illustrations of novels, Musha-e (Warrior), beauties, animals, monsters, and ghosts. Then he developed into another genre of landscapes. He also produced Nikuhitsuga (original paintings) which refer to paintings painted with a paintbrush directly on paper or silk.



Section I-Images of Samurai


The image of samurai warriors largely changed in the Edo period(1603~1868). People enjoyed peaceful life since Tokugawa Ieyasu founded the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603.

Samurai's role had become responsible for governing the shogunate and domain instead of a military force.




Part 1 Edo Samurai


Samurai had almost no battles to fight so they mainly served as government officials. You can see works depicting samurai contemporary with Hokusai and his pupils through their own eyes.


Katsushika Hokusai, Sekiya Village on the Sumida River, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, The Sumida Hokusai Museum (2nd term)

Hokusai depicted dynamic horseback riding of samurai, which tells us it was one of their pursuits in the samurai society.

It was published in 1831.


Katsushika Hokusai, A Kyōka Picture Book: Mountain upon Mountains, Vol. 1, The Sumida Hokusai Museum (all term *1)

Hokusai depicted two men looking drunk, which showed a peaceful world then.

It was published in 1804.



Katsushika Hokusai, Mount Fuji seen in the Distance from Senju Pleasure Quarter, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, The Sumida Hokusai Museum (all term *1)

Hokusai depicted a daimyo's procession returning home after a long stay in Edo. You can see samurai carrying their muskets, wrapped in cloths, on their shoulders. Can you see their peaceful atmosphere throughout the image?

It was published in around 1831.

*1: This work will be replaced by another with the same title halfway through the exhibition.


Part 2 Famous Samurai


Based on the tales that were handed down from the previous periods, Hokusai depicted warriors who were heroes in the war time.


Katsushika Hokusai, Hachiman Tarō Minamoto no Yoshiie, from A Picture Book of Japanese Warriors, Illustrated, Vol. 1, The Sumida Hokusai Museum (all term)

Hokusai depicted a gallant samurai on the horse who had established Minamoto clan's influence in eastern Japan.

*Taken by Michi at the press preview



Katsushika Hokusai A Beautiful Woman Cleaning Benkeiʼs Ear,

The Sumida Hokusai Museum (2nd term)

Hokusai humorously depicted brave Benkei who became a vassal of Minamoto no Yoshitsune.

It was published between 1798 and 1810.



Part3 Characteristic Samurai Scenes


You will see the exact images of samurai as we image today, through works of three key terms seppuku (harakiri, ritual suicide by disembowelment), osabaki (judgement), and haietsu (an audience with a ruler).


Katsushika Hokusai An Illustrated Book of the Treatise on Loyalty,

The Sumida Hokusai Museum

This book teaches the way of Loyalty.

Hokusai depicted Wada Tanenaga, a direct vassal of the Kamakura shogunate. According to "Azumakagami" (The Mirror of the East), he was executed in Michinoku, the far northeast of Honshu.

*Taken by Michi at the press preview



Section II-On the Battlefield


The samurai refined their combat skills, organized their vassals, and used their military force. The battles were essential to secure their clan's continued existence even expand their clan's assets. Thus the winning sides established a shogunate government and took political power. Since people had peaceful days in the Edo period(1603~1868), Hokusai and his pupils depicted battle scenes which had actually taken place, based on the information available in the Edo period.



Part 1 Off to Battle and Part 2 Famous Battles


You can see works depicting samurai making prepations for battle and battle scenes which were though to have been historically taken place.

Since common people became more literate, books about samurai were well sold in the Edo period.


Katsushika Hokusai, Honor to Nasu no Yoichi Munetaka for Shooting the Fan, from A Picture Book of Japanese Warriors, Illustrated, Vol. 2, The Sumida Hokusai Museum (all term)

Hokusai used perspective and you can't see a fan that Munetaka is aiming at. Hokusai added the note that "due to a lack of space, please imagine the warship that the arrow is aimed at."

It was published in 1836.



Katsushika Hokusai, Kusunoki Tamonmaru Masashige and Yao no Bettō Tsunehisa, The Sumida Hokusai Museum (1st term)

Hokusai depicted a tense moment that Masashige was carrying a wash basin in his hands, while Tsunehisa was about to draw a sword.

It was published between 1830 and 1844.



Katsushika Hokusai Onikojima Yatarō and Seihōin Akabōzu,

The Sumida Hokusai Museum

Hokusai depicted the vigorous moment of the two scrambling over a hanging bell.

It was published between 1830 and 1844.


Part3 Life-or-Death Battles


You can see battle scenes, not actual battle scenes, described in the novels.


Katsushika Hokusai Tametomo Trapped by Raging Flames on a Dead-end Path in the Forest, from Strange Tales of the Bow Moon, Vol. 4, Book 6,

The Sumida Hokusai Museum

Hokusai depicted Minamoto no Tametomo fleeing from flames, which was based on Yomihon, popular books, Strange Tales of the Bow Moon.

The book was published in 1810.

*Taken by Michi at the press preview


Part 4 Slashing Demons


Samurai was regarded as responsible for driving evil spirits away as well as governing the shogunate and the various domains.



Katsushika Hokusai Osawa's Ghost Appears Again, and Ihyoe Tries to Slash and Clear It Out. The Ghost Is not Visible to Ohana, Who Stops Ihyoe, from A Modern Ghost Story on a Starry Night, Vol. 4, The Sumida Hokusai Museum

Hokusai depicted the cruel and tense atmosphere by utilizing contrast between dark and light.

It was published in 1808.



Section III- Samurai Weapons

Samurai used swords, and bows and arrows, shields to fight a battle. Works depicting weapons are displayed as well as a sword and tachi.


Katana signed Tsuda Echizen-no-kami SUKEHIRO / Enpō 9 nen 8 gatsujitsu (The Japanese Sword Museum collection, all term)

It was produced in 1681.

You can see beautiful patterns of waves.




Katsushika Hokusai, Under the Wave off Kanagawa, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, The Sumida Hokusai Museum (all term *1)

This is one of the most renowned masterpieces among the series. Hokusai had keen interest in depicting waves in his forties and since then he continued to pursue the theme until immediately before his death.

It was published in around 1831.


*1: This work will be replaced by another with the same title halfway through the exhibition.


For more information, please access here.

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