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The Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture – a Peaceful Retreat

August 2019 Highlight

Sign of the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture.

The sights of Arashiyama draw a large amount of tourists every day, but there are many quiet spots as well. One of them is the home of the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture (SAMAC), a new museum dedicated to art related to Arashiyama.

About the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture

The entrance to the SAMAC.

The Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture (SAMAC) is a relatively new addition to Kyoto's museum scene. It was originally founded in 2006 as the Shigureden, dedicated to the Hyakunin Isshu, a famous collection of early Japanese poetry. However, it was recently renovated and reopened its doors in November 2018 as the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture, with an expanded scope. There is now also a cafe that is freely accessible.

The permanent exhibition of the SAMAC shows the history of the Hyakunin Isshu from original documents of the Heian era to modern playing cards. The special exhibitions – there are four each year - show fine art that is related to Arashiyama or Kyoto. Both permanent and special exhibitions have extensive descriptions in English and Japanese.

Find out more about the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture on their website (in English).

About the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu

The Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is one of the most famous collections of ancient Japanese poetry. It was compiled in the 13th century by Fujiwara-no-Teika and consists of 100 waka poems, each written by a famous poet of the time. The collection soon became a classic and even today, Japanese school children learn the poems in the traditional Japanese. During the Edo period, the Hyakunin Isshu has been turned into a card game called karuta, and a recent manga has led to a boost in popularity of both the poems and the game. The website of the SAMAC hosts a database where the Hyakunin Isshu can be searched by poet, poem or certain themes, both in English and Japanese.

Every year in January, the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture holds the National Karuta Competition. You can watch a video on how the game is played in the museum. Also, the museum gives introductory lessons to the game - please make a reservation beforehand if you are interested.

Ogura Hyakunin Isshu Picture Album.

Picture Album of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, 17th cent. Collection of the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture

About the Current Exhibition

Birds, Birds, Birds!

(July 27, 2019 – October 20, 2019)

What are birds made of?
Fluffy feather
and wings flying to wherever!

Birds are ubiquitous in Arashiyama and they have inspired many a poet and painter of Japan. In this exhibition, paintings of both local and exotic birds are on display, from the simple black and white ink paintings of Nagasawa to the colorful chickens of Jakuchu.

For a more detailed description about this exhibition, visit the website of the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture.

Flyer for the current exhibition at the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture.

Interview with the Deputy Director of the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture, Ms. A. Takemoto

The Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture can be found off the beaten tracks in Arashiyama. Why choose this location?

When the museum was built in 2006, it was dedicated entirely to the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. Even the old name, Shigureden, was a reference to the collection. Its editor, Fujiwara-no-Teika, had a villa in Arashiyama where he wrote poetry himself and this is where the Hyakunin Isshu was born. So, in a sense, it was a “back to the roots” when choosing the place for this museum.

There are other, similar poetry collections. What makes the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu so special?

Fujiwara-no-Teika was a member of an important noble family of the time. The collection endured partly because of his own fame, and partly because it became a kind of textbook to teach waka poetry to young poets, up until today.

Can you tell me more about the karuta card game?

This is a game that became popular in the Edo period, and it's essentially about memory. Each player has to memorize all of the poems and must be able to recognize them after only a few syllables. The cards are spread out in front of two players and show only the second half of the poems. A reader reads the poem and in order to win, you must pick the correct card very quickly. In the end, the winner is the one who has won the most cards. It is a very dynamic game and you can watch a video in the permanent exhibition.

There is even a National Karuta Competition.

Yes, the game is often played during the New Year period, and this is when we hold the competition in the gallery on the second floor. In 2020, for the first time, the competition will have men and women compete together, a perfect reflection of the collection itself, where 20 of the included poems were written by women.

What is your favourite poem?

That would be poem number 89 by Princess Shokushi, who was secrely and unfortunately, unhappily in love:

Should I live longer
I could not bear this secret love
Jewelled thread of life,
since you must break – do it now.

With the reopening last year, you expanded your scope beyond the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. What is your vision going forward?

We strive to create a “museum where you can meet art and culture related to Saga Arashiyama.” Many artists lived in Arashiyama and even in the Edo period, it was a popular tourist spot. Our collection includes many relevant artists and motifs and we are proud to present them to the public.

The current exhibition has this interesting feature with the QR codes...

Yes, we are trying to make this an all-round experience. When you scan the QR code next to the exhibit, you will hear the song or call of the birds in the picture. So the next time you walk around and hear a bird calling out, you know what to look for.

What is your favourite piece of the current exhibition and why?

It is the ink painting "Cranes Over Mt. Fuji” by Nagasawa Rosetsu. I especially like the composition and the soft curve of the flock of cranes as they fly across the painting.

The painting

The painting "Cranes over Mt. Fuji" by Nagasawa Rosetsu. Private collection.

Photo # 5 courtesy of the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture.