Iconic Hokusai Prints: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji
by Anna Jamieson | ART
When you bring to mind Japan, chances are that the majestic form of Fuji-san will loom large. Japan’s highest mountain, Mount Fuji is a sacred site for the Shinto faith, an enduring presence and recurring motif in Japanese literature and poetry. It’s also a popular tourist attraction in its own right; climbing its peak is the reason that many visit Japan in the first place. What’s more, its venerable size means that when the skies are clear, it can be viewed from Tokyo itself — almost like an overbearing ancestor keeping track of the city’s behavior.
Majestic and beautiful, many artists and writers have tried to capture the brilliance and power of the snow-capped summit. And of all its representations, perhaps the most well-known is Katsushika Hokusai’s woodblock print series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1830-32). Contrasting the mountain’s steadfastness and solidity with the ravages of the surrounding elements, the series depicts Fuji through different seasons, weather conditions and charming settings. Fuji stands resolute from these multiple viewpoints, framed by stormy seas, pretty umbrellas or beautiful sakura. By pairing the mountain with scenes from everyday life in nineteenth century Japan, Hokusai’s art gives us an important message. Whilst life changes, Fuji stands still.
1. The Great Wave
Of course, Hokusai’s most renowned woodblock print is undoubtedly The Great Wave, where we catch a brief glimpse of Fuji through the crest of a spidery foam wave, as three boats tussle with the water in the foreground. But as is clear from the title of the famous ukiyo-e series, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, the Great Wave was just one of a number of Hokusai prints that the master created which depicted Fuji. In fact, he produced far more than thirty-six, with a further ten often included in the original collection. Read on to learn about a few more, and let us know which is your favourite!
2. Asakusa Hongan-ji
A view from the Honganji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Here we see the city, landscape and mountain bathed in white snow, creating a calm and contemplative scene. Honganji remains a popular attraction in the area, although with today’s high rises it is harder to see Mount Fuji from the city than it was in Hokusai’s time. Perhaps the bamboo scaffolding you can see in this print is suggestion of the buildings to come!
3. South Wind, Clear Sky
In South Wind, Clear Sky, otherwise known as Red Fuji, the mountain stands tall in the foreground. Its vertical shards of snow juxtapose with the horizontal slithers of cloud with dominate the deep blue sky. The massed forests that crowd around its base are portrayed almost as single points, expertly highlighting the sheer size of Mount Fuji.
To see Hokusai's art in person while you're in Tokyo, check out the Best Places to See Hokusai!
4. Ono Shinden
A number of cattle populate Ono Shinden in Suruga Province, where the tawny brown of their hides contrast with the teal that streaks across this ukiyo-e print. Here, Hokusai seems to experiment with the abstract, as the bands of color rejects any sense of figuration or form, and rather suggest a mood or atmosphere that surrounds the mountain.
Mount Fuji has inspired many other print artists over the years. For more breath-taking artistic impressions, take a look at these Views of Mount Fuji Revealed!
5. Bay of Noboto
In Bay of Noboto, we can just catch the mountain peeping over a cluster of trees, in a sleepy setting in rural Japan, where a cluster of bathers wash their clothes under the shrine. The soft orange of the torii gates contrasts beautifully with the white Fuji in the distance, and the blue of the surrounding water. Noboto was a small fishing village on the opposite side of the bay from the city of Edo (now Tokyo). The tiny size of the snow-capped mountain on the horizon adds to the sense of isolation of this bucolic place, not just from Mount Fuji, but from the civilization of the capital city.
6. The Mitsui shop in Suruga
A sketch of the Mitsui shop in Suruga in Edo is a masterpiece of geometric compostion. Hokusai draws your attention to a flying kite, with a string that cuts across the empty sky. The line mingles with the triangular roof tops to create a number of zig-zag lines that move across the print, punctuated with the ever-present triangle of Fuji in the background. The This shop was the second establishment opened by the Mitsui family of 17th century merchants, whose name survives today as one of Japanese largest corporate conglomerates.
7. Shore of Tago Bay
The boats that battle with Hokusai’s Great Wave ply calmer waters in Shore of Tago. Here, the sailors are relaxed, enjoying the calm before the storm. Note the beautiful expressive lines of the soft waves that lap their sides — encapsulating the attention to detail that is typical of Hokusai’s prints.
8. Fuji from Kanaya
And finally, in Hokusai’s print The Fuji from Kanaya on the Tokaido we see a more graphic-inspired Fuji, with a thick line of pink zig-zagging along its top, surrounded by groups of people, fields, forests and sea. Again, the mountain’s endurance and omnipresent quality is stressed, as life goes on around its impressive form.
If you enjoy Hokusai’s work - and who doesn’t! - you will certainly enjoy the work of his enigmatic and highly talented daughter. Find out more in our article, Katsushika Oi: The Hidden Hand of Hokusai’s Daughter.