Introducing Hokusai's "A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces"

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.

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.

Rising Sun Prints is proud to offer the full series in a wide range of sizes and print styles to suit your home. You can browse the full collection here >>

Now, let's go on a tour of the waterfalls of the provinces together...

Aoigaoka Falls at Akasaka

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"Aoigaoka Falls" at Akasaka, Edo is a uniquely urban setting in this series of otherwise naturalistic prints. We look from the front of the upper residence of the Marugame fief west towards Aoizaka, as the water flows into the moat surrounding the Shogun's castle. To the immediate right of the scene here, just outside the margin, stands one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan.

In contrast to the unbridled force of nature in the rest of the falls in the series, the water is controlled and narrowly channeled in a man-made structure. 

A regular stream of worshippers came to the Kompira shrine in the surrounding precinct. The buildings at the top of the slope and in the bottom left corner are guard posts. At the foot of the print, men clean houses.

The "Aoigaoka Falls" no longer exist. Hokusai might have been the first to dub them "falls", given that the cascading water is actually an overflowing weir at the Northern end of the Akasaka reservoir in Edo, and art historians note the absence of any reference to a waterfall here before Hokusai's print.

With this act of artistic license, Hokusai thus coined a new ‘famous place’ for the city of Edo. Later, artists such as Hiroshige would go on to design their own views of Aoi slope and the weir.

Ono Waterfall on the Kisokaidō

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This famous waterfall is located near the post-station of Agematsu on the Kiso highway, in Shinano province (modern Nagano prefecture). Shinto ascetics undertook the water discipline in the Ono Falls, standing under the icy water and chanting their mantras.

As we view the fallMany pilgrims from Edo would visit Ooyama Mountain in Kanagawa prefecture to pray. Before they climbed the mountain, they would perform the water discipline under the Roben Falls at the foot as a purification ritual.

Hokusai uses a range of techniques for characterizing the water, transitioning from the long strokes of the crashing downpour to dots of spray rising upward and wavy ripples in the shallows of the pool.

There are subtle Easter Egg references to the publisher within the composition. Find the character 'Ei' on the hat hanging on the wooden fence, and the character 'Ju' and the Eijudo trademark are on the kimono of the man on the bottom-left. The mark is repeated again on two hats stacked at the right-hand edge.ontrasting an ominous, darkened sky with light blue coils of thin cloud rising to the right. 


Art historians have identified the ‘Ono teahouse’ here in the bottom left, and the shrine to Fudō perched on a cliff edge jutting towards the waterfall in the center. 

It is believed that Hokusai drew some of the "Tour of the Waterfalls" series from his imagination and other references. However, in volume 7 of Hokusai’s Sketches (Hokusai manga, 1817), Hokusai includes an illustration entitled ‘Ono waterfall, Shinano province’, suggesting he may have actually visited this spot himself. 

Rōben Waterfall at Ōyama in Sagami Province

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Many pilgrims from Edo would visit Ooyama Mountain in Kanagawa prefecture to pray. Before they climbed the mountain, they would perform the water discipline under the Roben Falls at the foot as a purification ritual.

Hokusai uses a range of techniques for characterizing the water, transitioning from the long strokes of the crashing downpour to dots of spray rising upward and wavy ripples in the shallows of the pool.

There are subtle Easter Egg references to the publisher within the composition. Find the character 'Ei' on the hat hanging on the wooden fence, and the character 'Ju' and the Eijudo trademark are on the kimono of the man on the bottom-left. The mark is repeated again on two hats stacked at the right-hand edge.

The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaidō Road

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Hokusai's utterly unique representation of water and topography is the most singular masterpiece of the series.

Two men enjoy a picnic on a cliff jutting out over the Amida falls against the backdrop of a deep blue eye as round as the moon.

The falls were named after the circular third-eye of the Amida buddha, which we see in exaggerated form in Hokusai's representation of the point at which the falls emerge. In the heart of the eye, water flows gently towards the lip of the 80m plunge.

Hokusai captures the transition of the water from pool to stream as a serene, gentle flow. We see the water separate into myriad rivulets, akin to the smooth cherry wood-grain from which the printing block would have been made.

Kirifuri Waterfall at Kurokami Mountain in Shimotsuke

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Situated in Nikko, an area with several waterfalls and many sacred temples, pilgrims and tourists would stop to enjoy these falls and refresh weary legs on their way to the Toshugu Shrine.

One group of travelers look upward in awe, dwarfed by the falls, while another more adventurous group make the arduous climb to explore the water's origin.

In this print, Hokusai chooses to animate the waterfall with the spirit of a tree's roots. While the deep Berlin Blue pigment is in sharp contrast to the backdrop, the waterfall seems to merge with the rocks and vegetation, flowing through them with a sense of "oneness".

The water descends about 30 meters in two steps, each about 10 meters wide, and as it falls, the water breaks upon the craggy rockface and creates a misty spray that cools the air.

The Waterfall Where Yoshitsune Washed His Horse at Yoshino in Yamato Province

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The print shows a small waterfall in Yoshino where, according to legend, the warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159–1189) washed his horse during a military campaign, while hiding from his enemies. He was the brother of the founder of the Kamakura shogunate. 

There is no direct evidence for this event, although by the early 1800's legends of Yoshitsune rising to Yoshino had taken hold. Several Yoshino gazetteers contain related accounts, and one claimed that "there are still horses descended from the one ridden by Yoshitsune in the Ōdai mountains’.

Hokusai alludes to the legend, but instead of a representing a great warrior, two commoners attend to the duty of horse-washing. The valorization of everyday people and peasants was a recurring theme in Hokusai's work.

Edo Period travelers would have also washed their horses in this legendary location, perhaps looking to draw upon the mythical energy of the flowing waters.

Yōrō Waterfall in Mino Province

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This waterfall in the town of Yōrō (Gifu prefecture today) was renowned as a source of miracles. Its healing waters are referenced in a legend about the filial piety of a son who sought the healing properties of the water to help his ailing father. The boy managed to take some water back with him, and upon returning home it had transformed into sake. After drinking the miraculous draft, his father was revivified.

The real falls are some 100ft tall, but here Hokusai has chosen to deliberately diminish their height to avoid the necessity of making the human figures tiny by comparison. It is not known whether Hokusai actually visited the location himself. 

The waterfall was illustrated in the gazetteer "Famous Places on the Kiso Highway in 1805, allowing us to identify the small building in the bottom right as a simple guest house for weary travelers.

Kiyotaki Kannon Waterfall at Sakanoshita on the Tōkaidō

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The Tōkaidō road, or "Eastern Sea Route," was the most important of the Five Routes of the Edo period in Japan, connecting Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Stations lined the road as rest stops for the weary and the tourist alike.

Kiyotaki Kannon Waterfall was a popular pilgrimage destination during the Edo period, as a nearby cave held statues of 3 Buddhist deities.

Here we see travelers leave the roadside tea houses and hike up a steep trail beside the waterfall at Sakanoshita station.

The "waterfall" itself is little more than a light trickle of water down the craggy rock face.

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