Hokusai and Mt Fuji


Hokusai (1760-1849), Fine Wind, Clear Morning (or Red Fuji), as it may appear at sunrise


One of the most well known Japanese wood block print artists, Hokusai, has left a large legacy of much admired prints almost as well-known in the West as in Japan. He was a master of the medium and could produce some incredibly detailed images. Hokusai may be best known for his series of prints, Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji, several of which I am featuring here. Having grown up in Japan, in Tokyo and Yokohama, seeing Fuji-San, as the Japanese refer to the (inactive) volcano, was a frequent and pleasing sight in good weather.

Among his Mount Fuji series, Hokusai’s image of The Great Wave off Kanagawa (below) is perhaps his most famous.

What strikes me about many of Hokusai’s prints was his willingness to produce a graphic simplicity that now looks distinctly modern, especially when depicting Fuji, even though many of his prints are 200+ years old. Unlike his Red Fuji (top image) he often decided to portray the mountain in a diminished scale or in a secondary way relative to the wider context depicted in some of his prints.

Here, above, is an example featuring a graphically simple rendering of the volcano. It is titled The Inume Pass, from the same Mount Fuji series. The image below is another from the set, once again illustrating his juxtaposition of attention to sometimes complex visual details alongside an appealing, almost flat or two dimensional simplicity when depicting Fuji. Hokusai’s portrayal of the contrast between white snow cover and the dark volcanic rock of the mountain is just how I remember it, with the dappled overlap between its upper and lower regions.

One of my favorite prints captures what appears to be an evening view of men in a boat (below), afloat above wind or current-stirred waves, with a great arching bridge and Mount Fuji again standing serenely in the distant background. With the sun having set in the west, the foreground of the mountain is in shadow – in this, the land of the rising sun.


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