The Great Wave

When I worked at Mokuhankan in Asakusa in May, I had the honor of trading one of my prints for a painstaking re-make of  Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760 – 1849) 「富嶽三十六景 神奈川沖浪裏」 “Great Wave off Kanagawa” subtitled: “Beneath the Wave”. The print was originally designed by Hokusai c.1829 and was re-carved by Dave Bull and printed by Numabe-san. See Mokuhankan’s Great Wave Project

A print process animation of “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai- this is from the Adachi Institute I believe.

Hokusai’s ~9-color ōban print was part of his series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”. Kanagawa is near Tokyo’s port town Yokohama- you can see Fuji-san in the background looking WNW.

golden mean wave
Overlay of the “Golden Section”/Mean/Ratio” relating to Fibonacci sequence-based proportions.
dragon hokusai
Katsushika Hokusai “Dragon Ascending Mt. Fuji” 1835
earlier wave
Katsushika Hokusai, “Oshiokuri Hato Tsūsen no Zu”, 1805









“The Wave”, of course, is an iconic image– likely the most recognized woodblock print in history. I am always amazed when students have never seen it. Students who recognize it think that Hokusai carved and printed it also- I sometimes clue them in to the division of labor, sometimes not.

Hokusai’s use of the golden section based on natural observation has often been noted by academics.

hokusai wave

I’ve also read that the Great Wave’s foam forms “claw-like” leading crests very similar to the way dragon claws are depicted see: Hokusai’s “Dragon Ascending Mt. Fuji” from ‘One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji’ (Fugaku hyakkei) 1835. The effect depicts an active nature’s power in the face of puny fishermen who prostrate themselves in fear.

hokusai portrait
Hokusai’s self-portrait– from a collection at the Louvre.
hokusai grave
Hokusai’s last domicile– I managed to find his grave (street view here) in Tokyo’s Motoasakusa area.

It is also interesting (at least to me) to note that Hokusai made a series of ‘proto-waves’. Shown above left is one entitled “Oshiokuri Hato Tsūsen no Zu,”  or “Fast Cargo Boat Battling The Waves” c. 1805. The style looks to me a bit like work from a later artist, Rockwell Kent.

Hokusai factoids:

• Although his studio and much of his work was destroyed in a fire in 1839, the artist is thought to have produced 30,000 works over the course of his lifetime

• Hokusai lived in more than 90 dwellings during the course of his life.

 “When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75, I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80, you will see real progress. At 90, I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100 I shall be a marvellous artist. At 110, everything I create — a dot, a line — will jump to life as never before.” He died at age 88 hoping for ten more years in order to become a “real painter”.

– Katsushika Hokusai

2 thoughts on “The Great Wave

    1. Paul- sorry for the delayed response. You know, I’d message him directly. I think that they sold the edition out and I know that it was a pain to print…

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