Bisecting Kyoto from East to West is Kawaramachi Street. Trendy clothes shops, restaurants, cafes, bars and department stores all light up the wide road late into the evening. It’s always bustling and exciting, particularly Golden Week.
Tucked into a second floor, the doorway easy to walk past even when one is deliberately trying to find it, is the Kyoto Ukiyo-e museum. Japanese art, produced from woodblock prints and paintings, of “the floating world”, the landscapes and pastimes and leisure pursuits of the new merchant class which arose in the twilight years of the Samurai.
The crown jewel of the museum’s collection is the famous Great Wave Off Kanagawa, a work of art famous around the world and emblematic of Japan and Japanese culture as a whole. The most remarkable thing I noticed about that particular piece was how small it was, how much detail was packed in an image smaller than most computer monitors.
In the lobby of the museum was an enormous banner-sized print of the painting, in front of which I naturally took a selfie. The picture still looked great at this enormous size, a credit to the intricacy of the art which at first glance can sometimes seem simple and cartoonish.
The main exhibit when I visited were Hiroshige’s 53 stations, a collection of illustrations (guess how many) of different views from along the long trek from Tokyo to Kyoto. It shows off gorgeous landscapes, the various colours of the sunrises and sunsets, and multitudes of characters in a mixture of comedic and dramatic poses.
My favourite had to be Yokkaichi Mie River, with a traveller looking to the distance, cape billowing dramatically in the wind. It’s easy to see the throughline from these classical artworks to the style and cool of modern anime and manga.