The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

One of the most iconic art prints from Japan, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai is an excellent example of old woodblock craftsmanship and elegant composition.

My Download from the LACMA website. Would love to see it in person along with the actual wood block.
My Download from the LACMA website. Would love to see it in person along with the actual wood block.

Having been to Kanagawa myself, Hokusai’s print reminds me that while Japan stands firm like Mount Fuji, it’s people will always have respect for the ocean, because they are always at the mercy of mother nature.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa (神奈川沖浪裏 Kanagawa-Oki Nami-Ura?, lit. “Under a Wave off Kanagawa“), also known as The Great Wave or simply The Wave, is a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Hokusai. An example of ukiyo-e art, it was published sometime between 1830 and 1833[1] (during the Edo Period) as the first in Hokusai’s series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei (富嶽三十六景?)), and is his most famous work. This particular woodblock is one of the most recognized works of Japanese art in the world. It depicts an enormous wave threatening boats near the Japanese prefecture of Kanagawa. While sometimes assumed to be a tsunami, the wave is, as the picture’s title notes, more likely to be a large okinami – literally “wave of the open sea.” As in all the prints in the series, it depicts the area around Mount Fuji under particular conditions, and the mountain itself appears in the background.

Copies of the print are in many Western collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the British Museum in London, the Art Institute of Chicago, and in Claude Monet’s house in Giverny,France. There is also a copy in the Asian Gallery of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.” – Wikipedia

For me, this print is about the beauty and respect that is found through nature; in the sea.

Because this print is so iconic, artists continue to adapted or modify it to their tastes.

A modern interpretation...
A modern interpretation…
Another modern adaptation
Another modern adaptation (my fav)

I found a couple videos about this master craftsman and his famous master work.

I remember, from my art history days, that Japanese woodblocks helped inspire modern comic book art. It’s impossible not to see the relation. I guess it is true. We should all learn about what’s been done (our history) to help inspire our future.

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Fuji-san: World Heritage Site

Japan Promotional photo
Japan Promotional photo featuring Mt. Fuji

During the 37th U.N.E.S.C.O. (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) Committee Session, Mount Fuji was added to the World Heritage List. Really? For some reason, I had already assumed that Mount Fuji had been on this list. Another reason never to assume anything…

Japan Promotional photo featuring Mt. Fuji
Japan Promotional photo featuring Mt. Fuji

If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about let me give you a hand. What do they do?

Directly from their site:

“UNESCO works to create the conditions for dialogue among civilizations, cultures and peoples, based upon respect for commonly shared values. It is through this dialogue that the world can achieve global visions of sustainable development encompassing observance of human rights, mutual respect and the alleviation of poverty, all of which are at the heart of UNESCO’S mission and activities.

The broad goals and concrete objectives of the international community – as set out in the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – underpin all UNESCO’s strategies and activities. Thus UNESCO’s unique competencies in education, the sciences, culture and communication and information contribute towards the realization of those goals.

UNESCO’s mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.”

Or, they are the part of the United Nations that reminds us that we have a lot in common as THE human race and should work together in learning and appreciating our global diversity.

I think they are trying to prove we all can get along and grow together.

Crazy clouds over Fuji-san
Crazy clouds over Fuji-san

Again, one of my assumptions about Japan was that since Mount Fuji was a major tourist attraction and icon for Japan it would be a no brainer to believe it was a World Heritage Site. However, famous mountains/tourist attractions and World Heritage are not the same thing.

What is World Heritage?

Again, from the site:

“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America make up our world’s heritage.”

Further more:

“What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage , adopted by UNESCO in 1972.”

So I’d like to imagine that if peaceful aliens from outer space came down for a global vacation and wanted to see places and relics that we as humans feel define us historically and culturally (globally and nationally), they would consult this Heritage list.

Japan Promotional photo featuring Mt. Fuji
Japan Promotional photo featuring Mt. Fuji

Also from the site, about Mount Fuji:

“The beauty of the solitary, often snow-capped, stratovolcano, known around the world as Mount Fuji, rising above villages and tree-fringed sea and lakes has long inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimages. Its representation in Japanese art goes back to the 11th century but 19th century wood block prints have made Fujisan become an internationally recognized icon of Japan and have had a deep impact on the development of Western art. The inscribed property consists of 25 sites which reflect the essence of Fujisan’s sacred landscape. In the 12th century, Fujisan became the centre of training for ascetic Buddhism, which included Shinto elements. On the upper 1,500-metre tier of the 3,776m mountain, pilgrim routes and crater shrines have been inscribed alongside sites around the base of the mountain including Sengen-jinja shrines, Oshi lodging houses, and natural volcanic features such as lava tree moulds, lakes, springs and waterfalls, which are revered as sacred.”

One of the more popular mythologies of Japan, involving Mount Fuji, is Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The end of the tale essentially establishes why and how Fuji-san became volcanic. From what I’ve read so far, it’s a great fairytale.

“The Great Wave off Kanagawa” A famous woodblock print by artist Katsushika Hokusai
Notice Fuji-san in the background.

Personally I never knew of this list or UNESCO until my first trip to Japan back in 2008. We went to Kyoto and it’s been on the list since 1994. I remember seeing signs around town stating it’s World Heritage significance and you can feel the pride the natives have for this status. It’s an amazing place if you ever get to visit.

The USA have a few sites as well.


I’ve no burning desire to make the climb to the top of Mount Fuji but I wouldn’t flat out turn down an opportunity either. The surrounding country side is beautiful in the  summer and winter (I have yet to go over in the spring or fall). If you go in the winter heed the road warning signs. Buy me a drink sometime and I’ll tell you how we almost died going to an onsen on our way past Fuji-san… 

Mt. Fuji
The only GOOD photo I’ve taken myself of Mount Fuji.
My last attempts were thwarted by lingering clouds.

Hoped you learned something, or I at least sparked your curiosity.

Yokosuka, Japan – Kanagawa Prefecture Pt.10

You have to see Mount Fuji when you visit Japan.

You don’t have to go there but you have to see it. Somewhere between Yokosuka and Kamakura, along the coast, there is a place to pull over and view Fuji-san in the distance.

View of Fuji-san near Kamakura

Fyi- I zoomed in all the way in on a 200mm dslr lens to get this photo. It’s a good ways away.

Still amazing.

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