Hokusai’s Lost Manga: Unpublished Drawings in Hokusai’s Own Hand Resurface After 200 Years



The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has one of the best collections of Japanese art in the world. Several years ago, a new treasure was discovered in its archives: Hokusai’s Lost Manga, a set of drawings that had gone unnoticed for over 200 years. Now an edition of these works with Japanese commentary has been published.

Katsushika Hokusai was an ukiyo-e artist of the late Edo period whose Hokusai Manga was an important predecessor to modern Japanese manga. After his death, Hokusai’s free, unbounded technique had an enormous impact on the painters of the West, and can even be linked to the birth of Impressionism. As an artist, he remains revered around the world today.

Hokusai Manga was originally created by Hokusai as a book of examples for people who wanted to learn to draw but were not able to join the growing ranks of his students. The first volume was published in 1814, when Hokusai was 55. It became a massive best-seller, and 15 volumes were eventually published in all.

These newly released “lost manga” were, for some reason, never published during the Edo period. However, a bound copy of Hokusai’s originals was stored away to be discovered centuries later. The new book Hokusai’s Lost Manga includes every page of the rediscovered drawings.

The red annotations indicate that publication was intended. Red was used to mark errors. © 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Known as the “Boston Albums,” these three bound collections of work in Hokusai’s own hand were discovered in an old box in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s storage rooms. The curators determined that the drawings were most likely the originals for an intended follow-up to Hokusai Manga. Last year, an edition of the work was published in the US with detailed explanations and commentary in English.

More red marks indicating that publication was intended. These marks specify printing positions. © 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In the Edo period, the woodblocks for printed books were created by professional engravers based on originals supplied by the artist. The actual originals were cut up and destroyed as part of the process, meaning that no original art that actually reached the printing stage survives today. In other words, the Hokusai Manga books we do have were technically not Hokusai’s own drawings, but rather an engraver’s careful imitation of them. Ironically, it is exactly because these “Boston Albums” were not published that they survived as an example of work in Hokusai’s own hand. These new English and Japanese editions are a truly historical event, reproducing hitherto unknown originals by one of history’s greatest artists in gorgeous five-color printing. Pick up a copy to see the lines dance!


Hokusai’s Lost Manga (Japanese edition: Hokusai Manga Nikuhitsu Mikankoban)
Price: 3,900 JPY (excluding tax)