Review: Is Sumida Hokusai Museum in Tokyo, Japan Worth It?

Sumida Hokusai Museum is an art museum in Tokyo, Japan dedicated to the internationally-famous Japanese ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai, commonly referred to as Hokusai. In this review, we’ll take a photo tour of the exhibits, review whether the Hokusai Museum is worth your time, and offer tips & basic info for visiting.

Katsushika Hokusai is Japan’s most recognizable and acclaimed artist; even if you don’t recognize the name, you’d recognize the art, which has become ubiquitous as symbols of Japan. Hokusai is best known for the woodblock print series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji which includes the iconic print, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.

At the time of this review, the Sumida Hokusai Museum has a 3.9 score on Google and 4/5 on TripAdvisor. Not terrible scores, but bad enough to put this museum so far down the list of things to do in Tokyo that most people will probably skip it. We think that’s a mistake…

Despite those scores, the Sumida Hokusai Museum has a couple of things going for it. First, it participates in the Grutto Pass program for free/discounted museum admission. As you’ll read in that post, we highly recommend the Grutto/Grutt Pass to anyone with more than 2 days in Tokyo. This undercuts one of the common complaints about the Sumida Hokusai Museum, and that’s the admission cost.

Second, the Sumida Hokusai Museum is within walking distance the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which we praise as one of the best museums in all of Japan, and an absolute Tokyo must-do. This undercuts complaints in other Hokusai Museum reviews that the commute is long and the museum small for all of the effort.

It’s absolutely true that the Ryogoku district of Tokyo is a bit removed from other popular tourist spots in Tokyo. However, unless you’re spending your days exclusively in Western Tokyo (a mistake way too many tourists make), it’s actually pretty easy to include this district in your itinerary. Stop at Ryogoku Station after an early morning at Toyosu or Tsukiji Fish Market, make the short walk to the museums, and then continue on to Asakusa. It’s really simple.

The other complaint about Sumida Hokusai Museum is that it’s small. There’s no getting around this one–it is a small museum, especially as compared to the Edo-Tokyo Museum or other general interest museums in Ueno Park. However, I think that doing the Hokusai Museum immediately after Edo-Tokyo Museum offers a nice (and very welcome) change of pace.

In that massive museum that spans a variety of topics and centuries, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and feel you’re missing a lot. Arriving at the smaller Hokusai Museum gives you a chance to catch your breath, decompress, and savor each individual piece before moving on. (Despite its footprint, the Hokusai Museum does house 1,800 works by the artist, which display on a rotating basis.)

The Hokusai Museum’s permanent gallery on the fourth floor is located in a single room, but is dense with interesting art, information, and interactive exhibits. Here you’ll find high-quality replicas of Hokusai’s artworks on display, including some of the artist’s most famous works. There are also multilingual panels and videos that offer a deeper dive into Hokusai’s art and his life.

Interestingly, the temporary exhibitions have larger galleries on the museum’s third and fourth floors. These typically showcase works by students of Hokusai and they require an additional admission fee, which is usually more expensive than the permanent exhibitions.

This is also where some of Hokusai’s original artwork can be viewed in detail. Unlike the permanent exhibition, only the titles of the artworks are translated into English here. If you start upstairs and go through some of the interactive exhibits, that’s generally not a big deal–you’ll have the requisite background you need.

The Sumida Hokusai Museum itself is a work of art, designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Sejima Kazuya. The structure was envisioned as a monolithic block, is broken up by angular cut-outs designed to bring light into the structure. Geometric forms of the facade reappear inside, with triangular walkways and angular motifs. The modern design vaguely reminds me of a wave, albeit one represented in a less organic and more structural way.

In addition to the two floors of exhibition space, the museum also conducts seminars, lectures, and workshops that aim to highlight Hokusai’s work to a broad audience.

On the first floor there’s a gift shop and small library with a selection of English books about the artist himself, along with Japanese history, art, and culture.

If you take a taxi from your hotel in Shinjuku just to see this one museum before immediately bouncing, you will undoubtedly be disappointed.

By contrast, if you’re already in the area for the Edo-Tokyo Museum or otherwise find a way to incorporate the Hokusai Museum into your itinerary, it’ll be a lot more satisfying. (Check out our 1-Day Eastern Tokyo, Japan Itinerary: Ueno, Asakusa & Akihabara for that.)

Sumida Hokusai Museum is a 5 minute walk from Edo-Tokyo Museum or the Ryogoku Station along thethe JR Sobu Line and Oedo Subway Line. If you don’t purchase the Grutto Pass, admission costs 400 yen for the permanent exhibits and varying fees for the temporary exhibits. You find more info about visiting and current pricing on the museum’s official site.

Ultimately, we like the Sumida Hokusai Museum a lot. This review may sound like I’m making excuses for its substantive shortcomings, and perhaps that’s true. I’d counter that this is a realistic assessment of the museum based upon how it slots into a logical Tokyo itinerary. The Hokusai Museum could be larger, but it packs a powerful punch in its small size, and that exhibition space is hardly the downside some other reviewers make it out to be. As an experience dedicated to Japan’s most acclaimed artist, we’d recommend the Sumida Hokusai Museum.

For all of your planning needs–from places to stay to things to do and much more–please consult our Ultimate Tokyo, Japan City Guide. If you’re planning a visit to other cities, please check out my other posts about Japan.

Your Thoughts

Have you visited the Sumida Hokusai Museum? Did you think it was worth the time and money? How much time did you spend here? Would you recommend the Sumida Hokusai Museum to first-timers in Tokyo, Japan? Any additional tips or thoughts from your visit to add? If you haven’t been to Tokyo, does this interest you? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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