Go Beyond Hokusai's Great Wave

July 02, 2019 5 min read

Go Beyond Hokusai's Great Wave-Rising Sun Prints Blog

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The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is one of the most recognizable images in the world. Hokusai’s masterwork, produced at the peak of his artistic powers, is unforgettable and known the world over. The print was an overnight sensation (even if Hokusai himself was 70 years old at the time). It was an immediate hit in Edo (Tokyo), and once copies began to circulate outside Japan in Western Europe as well. Van Gogh himself amassed a large collection of Japanese prints and Hokusai’s Great Wave is a thinly veiled undercurrent in the tumultuous sky of one of Western art’s most stunning paintings: Starry Night.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh clearly hints at the influence of Hokusai's Great Wave

Yet, despite the iconic nature of Hokusai’s Wave, few ever go beyond it and discover the deep, rich world from which it comes: that of Japan’s Ukiyo-e prints.

Putting other great masters, genres and movements aside for now, Hokusai alone has an almost overwhelming array of stunning prints in his body of work. Over the course of his 70 year career, he would design prints of all kinds, and produce masterpieces in almost every genre of Japanese print.


Hokusai’s Range

A master of range, Hokusai designed stunning landscape prints that captured the beauty of Edo and the surrounding provinces, birds and flowers (conceptually similar to Western still-life), tales of ghosts, paintings and more. The following prints are selected highlights from his life for your viewing pleasure.


Bridges series

"Remarkable Views of the Bridges in all the Provinces" was published in 1834. Bridges were a favorite subject of Hokusai, with many fine examples in his catalog.

The Suspension Bridge On the Border of Hida and Etchu Provinces by Katsushika Hokusai
The Suspension Bridge On the Border of Hida and Etchu Provinces by Katsushika Hokusai - Print Details >>

The Hanging Cloud Bridge at Mount Gyodo Near Ashikaga by Katsushika Hokusai
The Hanging Cloud Bridge at Mount Gyodo Near Ashikaga - print details .>>


Birds and Flowers

Hibiscus and Sparrow - 1833 - by Katsuhika Hokusai

Hibiscus and Sparrow (1833) - print details >>

This woodblock print is from the series "The Large Flowers". The collection was produced around Hokusai's creative peak (1832), just two years after the Great Wave and in the same period in which he produced more designs for the landmark series: 36 Views of Mount Fuji and A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces.

The Large Flowers are remarkable in their detail and realism, and use of abstract monochrome backgrounds, akin to Western still-life. That said, in Hokusai's prints we can see some dynamic movement. Plants sway in the wind and insects fly to and from the flowers.

Peonies and Butterfly - 1833 - By Katsushika Hokusai

Peonies and Butterfly (1833) - print details >>

The series doesn't appear to have been popular at the time, perhaps because of it's unusual style. Copies are rare, and there is little evidence that the series was reprinted after its initial publication. (Popular series were often re-released to the public in larger and larger print runs, which can be seen by variations in the exact print details and seals).

Since then, Hokusai has been vindicated, and these beautiful close-up views of natural life are held up as yet another artistic highlight from his oeuvre


Hokusai-Fall of Aoiga Oka, Yedo - by Katsushika Hokusai

Hokusai-Fall of Aoiga Oka, Yedo - print details >>

This compelling series contains some of Hokusai’s most mesmerizing designs. Encouraged by the commercial success and artistic mastery he achieved in his 36 Views of Mount Fuji series, which included The Great Wave and Red Fuji, Hokusai planned a set of 8 bold, evocative representations of Japan's waterfalls.

Hokusai chose eight waterfalls spanning the area 60 miles North and 300 miles West of Edo, between Nikkō Tōshōgu and the mountains of Yoshino, near the ancient capital Nara. He would use a vertical orientation for the series for maximum effect and to give the waterfalls a full range of expression.

A Tour of the Waterfalls in Various Provinces was the first series on the subject of waterfalls published in Japan. Hokusai was profoundly innovative in his depiction of moving water in its various states, elevating the art form.

Kirifuri Waterfall at Kurokami Mountain in Shimotsuke - by Katsushika Hokusai
Hokusai-Kirifuri Waterfall at Kurokami Mountain in Shimotsuke - print details >>

The series extended his exploration of methods of composition in landscape prints and highlighted the importance of waterfalls in Japanese spiritual beliefs and practices. In Japan, waterfalls are frequently more than simply scenic attractions, they are also often closely related to Shinto nature worship and Buddhist philosophy.

Depictions of these falls were more than picture postcards; they were considered spiritual iconography. The collecting of the prints could be seen as symbolizing a religious pilgrimage to the actual waterfalls.

36 Views of Mount Fuji

While you may be familiar with The Great Wave or Red Fuji, you might not be familiar with the 34 spectacular designs that Hokusai followed them with, in his majestic series the “36 Views of Mount Fuji”.

Ejiri in Suruga Province - by Katsushika Hokusai

Ejiri in Suruga Province - print details >>

Hokusai started his majestic series in 1830, when he was 70 years old.

In an extraordinary feat towards the end of his life, he created 36 unique views of Japan's sacred mountain which took Edo, and later the art world, by storm.

Hokusai plays with perspective and the emphasis of the elements. At times he details the venerable mountain, almost as a portrait, at others he chooses to abstract the form. When Hokusai shifts focus to the everyday people of Edo, Fuji is relegated to a distant mound in the background.

Hodogaya on the Tokaido - By Katsushika Hokusai

 Hodogaya on the Tokaido - print details >>


The Mansion of the Plates - By Katsushika Hokusai

The Mansion of the Plates - print details >>

This print is from the series entitled ‘100 Ghost Tales’ (Hyaku monogatari), made for a night-time storytelling game. After each story, another wick of the oil-lamp was blown-out, and the room became darker, until the room was pitch-black. At this point, the real ghouls would emerge.

Judging from the series title, the publisher and Hokusai foresaw a series of 100 designs. However, in the end, only five are known.

 The Ghost of Kohada Koheiji (1831) - by Katsuhika Hokusai

The Ghost of Kohada Koheiji (1831) - print details >>


n 1814, Hokusai published the first volume of a handbook of his sketches: called the Hokusai Manga. Originally intended as a reference for his students to emulate, it surpassed expectations and became a bestseller. Hokusai eventually expanded the manga to 15 volumes, with over 4,000 images.

 Sumo wrestlers from the Hokusai Manga


The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife is part of a three-volume book of shunga erotica first published in 1814, called "Young Pines" and has become Hokusai's most famous shunga design. He produced a number of erotic prints during his artistic career. 

The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife - By Katsushika Hokusai

The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife (1814)

Discover and Shop Stunning Hokusai Prints

In honour of Hokusai's majestic career, we've released a collection of selected highlights, representing just some of the artist's most inspiring works in various genres.

Click here to discover the full "Go Beyond Hokusai's Great Wave" collection >>

And click here to shop the "36 Views of Mount Fuji" collection >>